In defiance of restrictions on protests, this weekend saw people gather in London and Cardiff in solidarity over the death of George Floyd in police custody in the US. In London, it was reported that most of the people arrested were for breaches of regulation 7 of the coronavirus regulations. It is unclear how these individuals were detained while hundreds of others were not.
There were also arrests in London after Extinction Rebellion protesters gathered at Parliament Square on Saturday. The group insisted its members were maintaining social distancing but the Metropolitan Police confirmed the arrests were for alleged “breach of Covid-19 regulations”. Sky News reported that it was the police who were failing to keep their distance. One activist said in an interview, “if we have been sunbathing, it would have been perfectly allowed, but because I had a placard… I was arrested”.
A number of local XR groups (see this example from XR Cambridge) highlighted the different responses to people gathering in parks and on beaches with those exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
The brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was also arrested again during a small anti-lockdown / anti-5G protest with a very large police presence in London’s Hyde Park.
From Monday 1 June, lockdown regulations change in England and Wales. In England, people are able to spend more time outdoors and meet in groups of up to six from different households, following social distancing guidelines. In Wales, this must be in the local area with travel up to five miles allowed. Announcing this in advance has meant that, inevitably, people began to gather outdoors immediately.
A huge rave involving “hundreds” of revellers was stormed by riot police in Clapton in east London. Officers from Hampshire Police broke up several crowds of more than 100 young people in recreation grounds in Fareham.
In the north of Ireland, police officers were reportedly attacked when they tried to disperse a crowd of more than 200 assembled on Ballyholme beach in Bangor. In Wales, it was claimed Police Community Support Officers were subject to abuse from tourists from the West Midlands who were issued fines and sent home.
Meanwhile, health officials made a last-minute plea to stop the easing of the lockdown in England, saying it’s too early to do so.
The amended health regulations were announced on Sunday (!) and were due to be presented formally to Parliament on 1 June. The barrister Adam Wagner explains why it’s very bad that the lockdown guidance has changed before the law has been amended.
Proposed legislation for later this year includes a number of new pieces of legislation that will increase official secrecy and threaten whistleblowers. In the context of the current pandemic, where leaks have allowed the public to know the membership of the important SAGE group of scientific advisers and the report of a simulated influenza pandemic exercise in the National Health Service in 2016, this represents an “epidemic of secrecy”, argues Richard Norton Taylor.
In the US, officials in Minnesota have begun using contact tracing to track protestors at Black Lives Matter protests after the killing of George Floyd, in an apparent attempt to prove that those arrested were from outside of the state (a claim that one mayor was forced to withdraw). This represents a significant misuse of data gathered for public health protection in order to pursue overtly criminal justice aims.