The societal reaction to Coronavirus is certainly a very stark illustration of the context dependency of crime and deviance…..
The recent emergency legislation which put the country into lockdown has made a whole swath of previously ‘normal activities’ deviant, if not criminal, and it’s changing the nature of what we think of as both criminal and deviant.
The Emergency Legislation in the UK: Grey Areas
The ‘government advice’ is that no one is allowed to go out of doors without good excuse, which includes:
- Buying essential food and medical supplies for you own household and vulnerable people
- Getting money, to exercise and for essential work
- To avoid injury, illness or risk of harm.
Social gatherings of more than two people are also banned except from within the same household.
Emergency legislation gives police the powers to enforce lockdown laws, by insisting people go home and by issuing fines of up to £60, arrest, or dispersal using reasonable force.
However, it’s unclear about what actually constitutes deviance with the above advice and legislation: the law doesn’t state how many times people are allowed out, what constitutes food, and while advice says stay local when doing exercise, it doesn’t specify what local means!
As a result, there is room for interpretation over what constitutes ‘deviant behaviour’, and the police in some areas have been more rigorous in enforcing the lockdown than in others.
So what counts as deviant in the age of the lockdown?
There is some uncertainty, but clarity seems to be emerging as the agents of social control offer more explicit guidelines on what people can and cannot do, hence why this bizarre situation is such a wonderful example of the context dependency of deviance…..
Deviant: Sunbathing, picnicking and playing sports
For example Liverpool Council have made it clear that you can go outside if you keep moving (the ticks below) but not to stop or play sports…..
The police’s reaction to various people flouting lockdown rules also gives further clarification:
Deviant: Not social distancing
People are now being fined for getting too close to other people.
The first example of this I know of was Steve Mackie, who was fined £500 for ‘repeatedly approaching people queuing‘ outside a certain branch of Tesco.
The police have also allegedly fined some runners for ‘running to close to people‘.
Deviant: letting your kids outside four times in one day
A father in the West Midlands was recently fined £680 because his son had been spotted outside by the police four times in one day. I feel sorry for this guy, I can imagine it’s tough to have to keep your teenage kids indoors at this time.
Deviant: taking a 240 mile round trip to buy bread
One guy was recently stopped by the police doing 110 MPH on the motorway, he tried to explain his driving-jolly as buying bread, but he didn’t get away with it.
Here at least is some clarity on what counts as local – not 120 miles away!
Deviant: running for more than 30 minutes?
Michael Gove recently suggested that people shouldn’t be running for more than 30 minutes….
Upgraded to assault: spitting at key workers
Spitting or coughing at key workers may now be prosecuted as ‘common assault’. One man has already been jailed for 26 weeks for spitting at a police officer, saying he wanted to give her Covid-19.
Fair enough I say, just being a thoroughly unpleasant individual.
Coronavirus: making it easier for some ‘normal’ criminals
Meanwhile there is one criminal activity you’re less likely to be prosecuted for – watching your T.V. without a licence because enforcement letters and visits have been stopped. I guess it makes sense keeping in mind how crucial TV is for social control!
Finally, trials for all non serious crimes have been put on hold, so I guess some criminals are actually getting some extra free time to enjoy their ‘softer’ variety of lockdown (rather than jail)