Track and Trace: Police and the Criminalisation of the Marginalised

by Racial Justice Network and Yorkshire Resist

Track and Trace animation source

Police will now be able to access Track and Trace information on people instructed to self-isolate. Those who fail to self-isolate face fines between £1,000 to £10,000. This latest government action will have a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown communities and those from lower income backgrounds (in particular migrants) who have already been bearing the brunt of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 report released by Public Health England in June demonstrates that those in BAME groups (term used in the report) are more likely to die from the virus. Risk of dying is 4 times higher for Black people specifically, and this percentage is increased for people born outside of England. The report found that people from Central and West Africa are 4.5 times more likely to die of COVID-19 while in the UK. The numbers are equally alarming for people from “the Caribbean (3.5), South East Asia, which includes Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam (3.4), the Middle East (3.2) and South and Eastern Africa, which includes South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya (3.1)”. A joint report by migrant organisations and campaigns found the hostile environment is having a devastating impact on migrants’ access to healthcare during the COVID-19 crisis. The report concluded 57% of respondents were actively avoiding seeking medical advice because of fear of being charged, their data shared with the Home Office and other immigration enforcement issues.

Police access to Track and Trace information is just another way the carceral state has infiltrated the healthcare and immigration systems in this country. Instead of addressing the systemic inequalities fuelled by white supremacy, Black and Brown people, migrants and those from lower income backgrounds are seen as disposable. What of those who simply cannot self-isolate? Why are we criminalising those who feel the necessity of having to go out and work because of the very real fear of becoming destitute? This is worse for migrants who have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) which means they cannot access any government help including universal credit. Nearly 1.4 million cannot access public funds due to their immigration status yet the demand to access government help has doubled since March. The police use of Motorola’s PRONTO software (Police Reporting and Notebook Organiser, PRONTO) which includes the biometric fingerprint app which connects police and immigration databases has been updated with COVID-19 penalty functions. This is the result of the emergency police powers granted by the new Coronavirus Bill on March 26th, 2020. This new development compounds the unequal impact of the pandemic with the discrimination and lack of accountability embedded in policing technologies. Big Brother Watch research examined fines given in England under the Coronavirus Bill and found that Asian people received at least 13% of penalty fines even though they represent 7.8% of the national population and Black people were issued 5% of fines despite being 3.5% of England’s population. How are we to trust the police, who are institutionally racist with our data?

This October we learned of the misplacement of 16,000 COVID test results which resulted in around 50,000 people not told to self-isolate as well as people receiving notifications that contradict official government guidelines. These technological “mishaps” combined with police access to our health information will deter people from downloading the app, entrench further mistrust in the NHS and government. But this is not new. Since the implementation of hostile environment policies several migrant organisations including the Racial Justice Network have demanded a firewall be put in place between the NHS and the Home Office immigration database as the sharing of this information deters people from seeking medical attention. Our #StopTheSCANdal campaign has urged for an immediate desist of police being able to access immigration database as it puts vulnerable and marginalised people at risk of being further criminalised such as the case of migrant women victims of domestic abuse.

In May of this year, we wrote a short intervention after receiving thousands of new followers in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests across the globe following the murder of George Floyd by police officers. We wanted to channel our rage into action making 5 suggestions on where to start. We want to recall two points:

“3. Hold systems to account. Hold cultures to account. Racism isn’t one person. It is historical and systematic. The lack of access to healthcare, housing, education, and employment have been embedded into the fabric of a racialised capitalist society for a long time. Change harmful systems to change society.

5. Solidarity can take many forms. Continuously reflect on your positionality, pledge on what you will do and can do and do not demand answers from an already traumatised community. Hold yourself and your surroundings accountable, learn from it and do better.”

This is the time of solidarity. This is time to turn hashtags into material action. Where is the demand that better working and pay conditions be applied to everyone so they are allowed to self-isolate without the worry of becoming destitute? Where are the screams to scrap NRPF? Where is the collective demand to abolish Hostile Environment policies which are putting migrant lives at risk? At what point are we willing to stop the increased turn of our health system into a criminalised one? Who does community care and solidarity extend to and who does it exclude?

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