Covering Up: How Covid-19 regulation victimises disabled people in the UK

The Covid-19 virus has had a wide impact in the UK. But how have disabled people been adversely affected by the governments’ regulation of coronavirus?

D WilkinD Wilkin presenting David Wilkin’s specialism is disability hate crime (DHC). His activities include public speaking, lecturing, publishing and consultation work with the UK police and other authorities. David has been both a victim of DHC and is a passionate campaigner to bring these crimes to light. David conducts research on the topic and is in continuing contact with victims of DHC and their associates. In 2020, David was awarded an Honorary Fellowship at the School of Criminology at the University of Leicester. He is also the Lead Coordinator of the UK-based Disability Hate Crime Network.

On June 4th 2020 the UK Secretary of State for Transport announced, as part of the measures to control the Covid-19 pandemic, the mandatory wearing of face coverings on public transport within England and this would commence 11 days later. He did this by way of a Statutory Instrument under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. Face coverings are not surgical masks but are improvised methods of helping to stymy the spread of the virus in confined spaces by reducing droplets escaping from the mouth and nose. Latterly they became mandatory on public transport in Scotland and in Wales. Staff and police officers are not required to wear coverings but the police can issue a £100 fine for any non-wearing of coverings which is reduced to £50 if paid within 14 days. However, although the wearing of these garments appears to be mandatory, there are a number of exemptions from wearing them for disabled people or for those who might become distressed by wearing face coverings. These exemptions were published by the UK government on 14th June 2020 and were subsequently updated three times. The announcement that these coverings would be mandatory was made on prime-time UK national television, but the exemptions from wearing them did not attract similar exposure. Moreover, this supposedly mandatory requirement has been re-broadcast by both UK bus and railway operators but without the same widespread endorsement of the exemptions. This has resulted in peer-policing of the wearing of coverings – often to the detriment of disabled people who had a legitimate reason for not wearing them. Disabled people have become victims of hostility and abuse for not wearing coverings by other members of the public who may, or may not, be aware of the existence of exemptions.

It additionally became mandatory to wear face coverings in shops in Scotland from 10th July 2020 and in England from 24th July 2020. In preparation for enforcing these regulations Dame Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, the UKs most senior police officer, said that people not wearing ‘masks’ should be “shamed into complying or shamed to leave the store by the store keepers or by other members of the public” (BBC, 2020). This comment from a national leader seems to justify the peer-policing of people who might actually have a legitimate reason for not wearing a face covering.

Soon after the introduction of mandatory face coverings on public transport, disabled people started to contact the author. At the time of writing 46 notifications had been expressed. One female, who could not wear anything covering her face because of breathing difficulties, was ridiculed by another passenger. The perpetrator addressed fellow train passengers whilst pointing to the victim and blaming her for ‘deliberately infecting other people’ and ‘trying to bring other’s down to her level’. In a similar attack where the victim was portrayed similar to ‘the star of a freak show’, a female perpetrator shouted above the head of the wheelchair-using victim saying that ‘everyone should stand well clear – this one isn’t wearing a mask’. The offender also stated, whilst specifying the victim, that ‘these people are a threat to us all’.

In another incident on a train, a male approached a victim who became distressed when their face was covered and removed the mask. The perpetrator dangled a surgical mask in front of the victim and loudly said ‘put this on’. He was laughing and engaging fellow passengers when he went on to say ‘you lot [disabled people] should be able to afford one of these with all your benefits’. The offender, more threateningly, then said ‘put it on, we don’t want your pox’. The victim then applied the mask to placate the offender but left the train at the next station, unable to complete his journey. During an incident on a bus, the male bus driver told a female using two walking sticks that she could not board without wearing a mask. The victim, with humour, stated that ‘it kept falling off’ and that she ‘had no hands available to hold it on’. The driver, aware of her obvious predicament, then said ‘no mask – no ride’. To seemingly justify his comments he went on to say ‘it’s my job to protect the public on this bus and I’m going to do it’. The victim then applied the face covering but, as predicted, it kept falling off. This brought laughter from some of the other passengers – but the victim ignored this as she needed to attend a medical appointment. The driver also found the situation amusing and laughed loudly.

Aside from direct attacks for not wearing face coverings, disabled people have communicated other Covid-19-related incidents to the author. Socially distanced queuing has now become the norm. Partially sighted people have reported that they have been abused for not socially distancing, a facet which guide dogs have not been trained to accomplish. Moreover, people with some sight impairments are unable to perceive depth and distance. Disabled correspondents have also expressed that they have been pushed out of queues, or that the queue has circumnavigated itself around them so that they are no longer in it. Other disabled people, using wheelchairs or other bulky equipment, have been unable to use their customary route around a railway station because of chairs and tables being placed outside of cafés and bars to necessitate social distancing inside the premises. This, again, has had an especially profound effect on people with limited vision.

The world is in a crisis. State authorities and ordinary people alike are coping with situations which were, until recently, alien to them. Governments need to issue, and occasionally enforce, regulations which were speedily constructed under emergency conditions. Guidance and regulation is arguably necessary to establish public safety and to control the pandemic. However, one thing that is glaringly obvious from these incidents is that governments and national agencies need to broadcast clear and balanced instructions. The use of the word mandatory has led public transport operators and their customers to believe that there is no conceivable choice but to wear face coverings. Furthermore, although exemptions to wearing face coverings have been cited by the UK government, these have not been transmitted with the same urgency or bandwidth as has the need to wear face coverings. Much could be gained, and much victimisation reduced, by the use of measured language and its considered delivery.

Reference

BBC(British Broadcasting Corporation) (2020), Coronavirus: London police to enforce face masks ‘as last resort’, online at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-53498100, (Accessed: 24/07/2020).

Contact

David Wilkin, Honorary Fellow at the School of Criminology, University of Leicester

https://le.ac.uk/criminology/people/honorary/dr-david-wilkin

Lead Coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network

https://www.facebook.com/groups/disabilityhatecrimenetwork

Email: drw25@le.ac.uk

Twitter: @DavidRWilkin

Images: courtesy of the author

Eight Minutes and Forty-Six Seconds

Police militarization enables racial oppression

Paul Edwards

Paul Edwards is a Criminology PhD Researcher based at Liverpool John Moores Universities Faculty of Arts Professional and Social Studies & School of Justice Studies. Research interests include: Popular and cultural criminology, illicit markets, organised crime and critical criminological theory.

 

“These streets will speak for themselves”

(Dave Chappelle – 8:46 Netflix)

The murder of George Floyd shocked the world and again put the reality of living in the United States, especially as a BAME citizen on the global stage. During a global pandemic, millions around the country bravely marched, protested for justice and declared their message ‘Black Lives Matter’. In response the US government deployed its heavily militarised police to face them and later, National Guard units lined city streets: rifles, batons and shields in hand.

This also inspired protests globally: in the UK, France and Belgium people came out in support of the BLM movement. Nations woke to populations whose anger was clear to see and statues of former slave traders (representing the historical roots of black oppression) were ripped down. So, in light of recent events this blog will focus on the current state of policing in the United States and seek to address the questions: Where has policing gone wrong? How policing relates to concerns about racial tensions? and How might policing change?

To answer the first question, it is not hard to see that the trust in the police and the wider justice system is seriously eroded in large sections of the US. Thus, this section will focus on the loss faith in policing in the US and how it adds racial inequality and oppression.

This subject is ‘Militarisation’, which Kraska (2007) notes as the traditional distinctions between military/police, war/law enforcement and when internal/external security becomes blurred. Additionally, Kraska states that Militarism in its most basic sense, is an ideology focused on the best means to solve problems. It is a set of beliefs, values, and assumptions that stress the use of force and threat of violence. This direction towards militarisation has been tracked down to its beginnings most impactfully with the terrorist event of 9/11 (Dunlap, 2001). However they have also been documented as early as the US involvement, both abroad and domestically, in drug control efforts in the mid-to-late 1980s (Kraska, 1993) .

The consequences of militarisation are vast, including hyper-violent, no-knock raids. Debates have been raised to question if these are unconstitutional and breach local police powers. In the US, these types of raids go head to head with the second amendment, as cases have come to light where officers and citizens have been shot as a result, see example here: Breonna-Taylor-shooting. These usually result in expensive litigation judgments but they still exist as a result of militarisation, with questions being raised on the targeting of innocent individuals (like the case above) because of their race (Balko, 2006).

Opinions voiced in online platforms, suggest the policing community see their job as an ‘us vs. them’ scenario. This is best described by youtuber Wraglerstar who shares his opinions about the change in the policing, specifically from the 80’s to the present day. In this he describes the beginnings of the militarisation of police and the change (notably in the city) where police officers seem to become more ‘special forces operator looking’ as well as describing this changed mentality. For Wraglerstar, this changed mentality in policing was experienced after being pulled over aggressively by heavily armed officers, assaulted and even being harassed by the same officers after the incident. Going further he points out that ‘no one is inviting these guys to the local barbeque’ because their aggressive nature is not welcome. This is unlike  the past, where police and other services would be invited to ‘birthdays’ and ‘thanksgiving’ get togethers to tighten community bonds, morals and trust. Therefore, this demonstrates that community policing is, as stated above, seriously eroded.

In short this change in mentality can be said to be due to militarisation as Kraska (2007) noted that it causes a cultural shift to martial language, appearance, beliefs, and values. An example of the culture can be seen in the Punisher Skull used by police in the US specifically, even though the use of this in the Marvel comics represents the failure of the police and justice system. What this has caused, is a complete failure of the purpose of the policing model in the US with the community aspect of policing being totally thrown out of the window. Regardless of how many community outreach teams departments police have, the community they serve is fearful and disconnected.

Turning to the second question, it is obvious that the militarisation of the police only serves to widen the racial tensions in communities and enables those officers who have a racist mindset to exercise their views in a more hyper-violent way. Policing as a whole depends on communities trusting those who are there to protect and serve. However, if the police themselves are not part of the community, they have no vested interest in that community. This is not helped by officers who are drafted in from other parts of the country and do not understand the cultures and traditions of the neighborhood.

Thirdly, the militarisation of the police needs to be rethought and stripped back. The communities they serve are not the enemy, they are citizens who expect to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. They are people who want to welcome in officers to their shop, chat to them on the street and invite them to cookouts. But they will not invite people they see as a threat, who are violent to them and kill people on the street through excessive force. Extensive training is needed and when an officer is seen to be using excessive force, officers around need be equipped to challenge without fear of backlash.

Perhaps the time has come to question more deeply how to police a predominantly armed nation? It is necessary to question why patrol officers need to be seen in neighborhoods patrolling in camouflage pants and why at a peaceful protest is there armored SWAT trucks and officers with rifles at the ready. This only harbors a culture that looks at everything like a battle to be fought.

To conclude, it is obvious how the militarization enables an overuse of power and potentially allows those with a racist mindset to fulfil their prejudice and this needs to change. Policing needs to change, whether this is stripping departments back to people who come from the communities, or other solutions, it is critical-community style policing restored to maintain civilian oversight. Other solutions like defunding the police may be a slippery and dangerous slope however and may lead to private security solutions (as seen in the UK and some US states) and this needs to be avoided, as this may lead to the loss of trust and vulnerability as demonstrated in South Africa. With this it is critical solutions are looked for, debated and critical thought is needed from all sides. This blog ends on one thought, that the police (and the incredibly difficult job they do) are needed but the senseless deaths need to end.

 

Below are links to recommended viewing:

The Future of Policing in America – Understanding & Changing Police Training: Gracie-Breakdown

Racial oppression and community by Kimberly Jones

Netflix 8:46 – Police brutality and lived experience by Dave Chappelle

Netflix Collection – ‘Black Storytelling’ Including Ava DuVernays ‘When They See Us’

 

Contact

Paul Edwards,  Liverpool John Moores University

Email: P.Edwards@2020.ljmu.ac.uk

Twitter: @P_Edwards8

Images: courtesy of the author