Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Public Space

The focus on individual behavior serves to obscure the culpability of the powerful, both governments that make and communicate and enforce policies and the business owners whose poor (zero) workplace safety considerations continue to provide much more fuel for the spread of the virus than any mildly overcrowded park. People always respond with some version of b-b-b-ut people should behave responsibly. And, well, yes they should, but there hasn't exactly been clear and consistent communications about what that means and most people are not Very Online and plugged into the latest twitter decrees or 11:30PM press release.

Unless lockdown is such that people are really locked down, if people are "allowed" to go outside for reasons, including a bit of sanity, police should rarely be spending any of their time policing any but the most extreme (A big party!) behavior violations. If cops have time to harass individuals, they have the time to figure out policies that make sense from a collective experience. Iif parks are too crowded, you can meter entrance, you can set up one way paths, you can close the basketball court but keep the rest open, etc. You know, you can do what supermarkets have figured out.

Powerful people want to blame the public for their own flaws. Blaming people for being victims of an epidemic is not unfamiliar.
The policing of individuals has also been intensely worrying. A Sky News camera crew followed Brighton and Hove police as they admonished members of the public for various perceived flouting of the rules. Most worrying was their aggressive treatment of an older man, sat alone on a bench, far from anyone. A policewoman was filmed marching up and demanding that he keep moving. He was in pain, he explained, as he had sciatica and was resting in the middle of a walk. The police officer dismissed this: the public must be moving at all times, a detail that is not explicitly present in any of the guidelines issued by the government or public health bodies. It’s worrying: if the police are becoming draconian in their interpretation of the rules and attacking anyone sitting outside alone, they’ll very quickly make life miserable for people with disabilities or those recovering from injuries, as well as pregnant women and older members of the public.

Much of the backlash amongst the public comes from people who’ve been merrily tweeting about their own gardens, wilfully ignoring the fact not everyone has outdoor space, and that we’re all desperate for fresh air. Worse still is the trend of going to a park, and then filming or photographing members of the public, denouncing them for being outside in the ‘correct’ way. It assumes that people who are sat down or playing sports are not from the same household, or worse, that they shouldn’t be sat down at all.