June 3, 2020 Faith Matters

BAME people more likely to be arrested under coronavirus laws, figures suggest

Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people were nearly 50% more likely than white people to be arrested in London using coronavirus laws, new figures suggest.

The total number of Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) handed out by the Metropolitan Police between March 27 and May 14 was almost a fifth higher for those from non-white communities.

While people from Asian, black, mixed and other backgrounds make up around four in 10 of the capital’s population, according to Office for National Statistics data, they account for more than half of the fines and arrests for alleged breaches of Covid-19 legislation.

Black people make up 12% of the population but received 26% of the 973 fines handed out by police and accounted for 31% of arrests.

Asian people, who account for 18% of London’s population, were handed 23% of fines and were subject to 14% of arrests.

The UK’s largest police force admitted “higher proportions of those in black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups were issued with FPNs or arrested across London as a whole”.

But the Met said the reasons “are likely to be complex and reflect a range of factors”, adding: “This includes interactions between the areas subject to significant proactive policing activity targeting crime hot-spots and both the variation in the age-profile and geographical distribution of ethnic groups in London.”

Police were given powers to break up gatherings or fine and arrest people for breaching restriction of movement rules under the Health Protection Regulations 2020, from March 27.

The data released on Wednesday shows 973 FPNs were issued by the Met up to May 14.

Some 444 were given to white people, with the total figure (526) 18% higher for non-white people, including 253 issued to black people, 220 to Asian people and 53 to others, according to the information recorded by officers.

The Met made a total of 747 arrests, although just 36 were for alleged breached of Covid-19 regulations alone, with the majority coming alongside arrests for other offences.

There were a total of 414 arrests for those who classify themselves as black (232), Asian (106), mixed (47) and other (29), some 46% higher than the 284 arrests of white people.

While non-white people make up 41% of London’s population, they account for 54% of fines and 55% of arrests, with no ethnicity stated in 7% of the arrests.

Former chief superintendent Owen West said racism was a potential factor in the number of fines handed out to BAME people.

“We have a real issue in the UK around the disproportionate effect of police powers and coercion in the UK,” the retired officer told BBC Five Live.

“Of course the UK police service has massive issues with discrimination, has massive issues in relation to the use of coercive powers and the use of fixed penalties and criminal justice issues in this country. And I really do think now is the time to confront it.”

Asked if racism has played a part in the giving out of fines, he said: “There is a potential for that, and we have to confront it.

“And there are many, many communities out there that feel that that is their experience, that feel that stop (and) search, that feel that Covid fixed penalty notices are there on the basis of discrimination by officers.”

Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said officers had taken enforcement action in a “very, very low” number of cases among “millions of encounters” between officers and members of the public.

But she said she did not see the data as “extremely surprising” with any apparent disproportionality in line with other trends.

She told the London Assembly police and crime committee: “Nobody is happy, for example, that our black and minority ethnic friends, family and colleagues are subject to far higher levels of victimisation.

“Nobody is happy that there are lots of differences in society in that way.

“And nobody is happy, I suppose overall, that when the police are enforcing the law they often, at this time in our history, are coming into contact with people in different ways across society.”

Rosalind Comyn, policy and campaigns officer at human rights group Liberty, said: “These figures reflect the unjust reality that affected communities are well aware of, even when lockdown is not in place.

“In the short term the Government needs to create a right to appeal these fines, in the long term they need to listen to those most affected by overbearing policing and take meaningful steps to address long-standing disparities in the way we are policed.”