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These riots are the result of years of the government whipping racist Britain into a frenzy

Instead of discouraging the far-right, it has increased anxieties about the increased role of the police among BAME communities

Pooja C. Singh
Sunday 14 June 2020 11:06
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More than 100 arrested as PM brands far-right protests ‘racist thuggery’

With lockdown slowly being eased, Britain is heading towards a "new normal". But recent events have shown that this "new normal" will not necessarily be limited to just social distancing. The outrage against the police killing of George Floyd has rippled through the world and triggered a global conversation about state brutality. And this weekend's events, in which far-right rioters clashed in violent scenes with the police over the "protection" of British monuments, have complicated matters further. With no sign of tensions easing, questions will continue to be raised about perceived differences in treatment between anti-racist demonstrators and their ideological opponents, as British anxieties about the police sky-rocket.

The backdrop of a global pandemic has made this conversation even more potent – in enacting the Coronavirus Act 2020, the British police have essentially become the "right arm" of the Conservative government. Since the beginning of lockdown in March, reports of wrongful convictions and news that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people, particularly black people have been targeted for breaches of lockdown rules, have cast fresh doubts on this being a short-lived issue. This comes at a time when black communities are openly voicing their trauma of experiencing abuses of power. The question remains: How far will the police go to police people?

Prior to the general election in December 2019, Priti Patel, the home secretary, claimed the Conservatives would once again become "the party of law and order". They had already ramped up police power, with the use of tasers at a record high prior in the previous year. But the pandemic, along with recent protests, has provided the Conservatives with the opportunity to test their idea of "law and order". The British government's hold over the police has quite obviously surged during this time, though it is unclear whether they will loosen their grip as Britain eases its way out of lockdown.

In a poll conducted by YouGov in April, a third of Brits believed the police had gone too far. A number of reports documenting the intrusiveness of police throughout lockdown, corroborates the uneasiness surrounding increased police power. From a Black man being tasered in front of his 5-year-old son, to a disabled woman being intimidated by police when out for her daily exercise and reports of drone cameras being used to enforce lockdown, the line between policing and surveillance has been blurred. Even police officers feel overwhelmed by the overbearing role carved out for them by the government. The lack of clarity in the government’s constantly changing guidelines has made it almost impossible to police the lockdown.

The Crown Prosecution Service has found that dozens of convictions have been wrong, which begs the question: are these miscarriages of justice part and parcel of a broken system? Or are they a symptom of a system at its breaking point?

Last week, the government and police faced the tricky task of voicing their support for Black Lives Matters (BLM) demonstrations in the UK, while warning protestors about the consequences of breaking the law. Boris Johnson stated that he was "appalled and sickened by the death of George Floyd" and urged demonstrators to protest peacefully. Just a few days later, Johnson stated that British anti-racist protests have been "subverted by thuggery" in response to reported incidents of violence. This weekend, the government has repeated the same statement, despite a huge discrepancy between the violence reported at demonstrations by far-right rioters and the largely peaceful demonstrations by anti-racism protestors. Although cases of violence are still in the minority, these anti-racist demonstrations risk being similarly characterised as "lawless" by the government, justifying efforts by police to contain them.

The Metropolitan Police also expressed their horror in the aftermath of Floyd's death and gave support towards other victims of police brutality. In a statement, they shared: "We are appalled and horrified by the way George Floyd lost his life. Justice and accountability should follow."

Following reports that 14 officers were injured in clashes with protestors in London last week, Cressida Dick, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said it had "made arrests and justice will follow’". Unwittingly, perhaps, the commissioner seems to be echoing the very thing that protestors are fighting against: Where justice concerns victims of police brutality it’s probable, but where it concerns police officers, it’s certain.

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities have every reason to be anxious about the increased role of the police and its consequences. The report that BAME people are 54 per cent more likely to be fined than white people, is a real cause for concern. Last year, the government’s expansion of stop and search powers provoked discussion about its purpose. With black people in England and Wales already 40 times more likely to be stopped and searched than their white counterparts, the police are at risk of intensifying the fears of BAME communities. Class is also proving to be a marker for being targeted. Reports of a postcode lottery of lockdown fines and worse yet sightings of a more visible police presence in lower socio-economic public spaces have added to suspicions of excessive police power.

The question remains; despite attempts by the police to protect Britain in the midst of a pandemic, why do disadvantaged communities feel as if they're being forced to pay a price? This is just the latest in a succession of fears, with the police consistently being criticised for measures like the use of facial recognition technology. With the backlash against Dominic Cummings' breach of lockdown still lingering in the minds of many Britons, the government's over-reliance on police force may well be responsible for Britain's complete loss of trust in it.

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