U.K. Cops Remind Us Why We Should Resist the Government's Coronavirus Power Grabs

Threatening shops for selling chocolate Easter eggs and mocking people who are actually following the law undermines citizens’ trust.


When the U.K. Parliament sought out broad new authorities to surveil and control people to fight the spread of the coronavirus, leaders insisted that these powers would be used responsibly and specifically for public health matters.

It took all of a weekend for a police department in England to show exactly why citizens shouldn't trust officials to wield power responsibly.

Last Thursday, Parliament passed a bill forcing citizens to shelter in place, restrict their movement, and close down non-essential businesses and commerce. Fines for violators start at 60 pounds ($75) but can escalate up to 960 pounds ($1,200) for repeat scofflaws.

The law is full of exceptions. People are not prisoners in their own homes. But apparently the police in Derbyshire decided they knew what the law said without closely reading it. People need to stay indoors! So over the weekend, they sent their drones out to snoop on and attempt to shame people who had driven out to a park or gone for walks. Then they posted a video on Twitter:

Here's the problem, beyond the creepy secret surveillance: These people in the video are not in violation of this new law. The Derbyshire Police are in the wrong. The section of the law that lists restrictions on movement for U.K. citizens provides an exception "to take exercise alone or with members of their household." That is what all the people in this video appear to be doing. There are no large congregations of people in the video risking spreading the coronavirus to each other at all. Rather than shaming people, this video shows that the cops have no idea what this law they're enforcing actually says.

Over at Spiked, Deputy Editor Tom Slater takes note of how British police are rushing out and deciding for themselves what the law means in ways that are stupid and controlling—and also wrongheaded. He notes that government officials have said that part of the law "means" that people are supposed to take exercise near their homes and only once per day. But that's not what the law actually says, and Slater notes that police have confirmed that it is not a violation to drive out to somewhere isolated to get your exercise in. And, of course, busybody neighbors are now flooding police with calls whenever they see somebody outdoors.

But at least there's a certain logic behind the belief that British citizens are forbidden to travel to parks to exercise, even if this interpretation of the law is incorrect. Less understandable is an effort by some U.K. police officers to attempt to control what products individual stores sell. Several convenience stores across England have said police and health officials are attempting to order them to stop selling chocolate Easter eggs because they say these goods are not essential.

But again, police are misreading the law. The law doesn't declare that some goods are or are not essential. It declares that some shops are essential or non-essential. The shops that are allowed to remain open are largely permitted to sell whatever they want. Chocolate eggs are not a vector of coronavirus transmission!

These stupid examples are exactly why people resist government authority, even in times of great crisis.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, government officials are threatening people with jail time for violating quarantine orders. This is both a nastily authoritarian and particularly stupid response: Jails and prisons across the United States are becoming vectors of COVID-19 transmission. If you're a mayor or police chief and you want to signal that you value "being in charge" over protecting actual public health and safety, dragging people to jail for violating your curfews should do it. Serious people don't fight the coronavirus by threatening to expose more people to the coronavirus.

NEXT: Spanish Flu Experience Might Indicate That Public Policy Interventions Don't Have Long-Term Economic Effects

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  1. So Reason doesn’t like police state authoritarianism, but the majority if it’s writers end up supporting the party that is excited to remove all of our individual rights.

    1. You actually think there’s much difference in the two parties?

      You actually have some citations for thinking Reason’s writers support one party over the other?

      1. Reason criticizes Trump. That means all the writers are all raging progressives, and we are all socks. There is no other explanation.

        1. Right, and they never once published a single word critical of Obama during his 8 years in office. Not a peep out of any of them.

          1. When Obama was president, Reason was a conservative rag with raging Republican writers because they were critical of the Democrat in the White House. But when a Republican took residence they turned Democrat. There is no other explanation.

            1. Exactly, it’s not like its possible to think both parties suck ass.

            2. When Obama was president, Reason by and large sucked his cock and raged about house Republicans like all good bien pensant journos did.

              1. What world do you live in? Aside from liking DACA, and a little optimism early on, they were not into Obama. Or does agreeing narrowly on one or two things count as cock-sucking now?

              2. I can tell you weren’t reading Reason during Obama’s presidency, because that statement is absolutely false.

              3. I was reading it since well before that point, and it’s flagrantly untrue that they showed Obama much (if any) deference. They regularly bitched about his broadening of executive powers and every one of his signature policies – particularly Obamacare.

                I’m fairly certain I’ve seen them say more nice things about Trump’s actions than Obama’s. They don’t seem to like Trump’s demeanor very much, but who does?

        2. Sarc, you do know a lot of the writers here voted for Hillary in the last election, right?

          1. As I recall from their ‘who are we voting for’ post at the time, there was only one Hillary supporter associated with Reason. Most said they were voting for Johnson or not at all. So no, that is not the case.

            1. And after every election someone erroneously claims that it is.

          2. One of the writers here voted for Hillary. The vast majority for Johnson or no one. I bet you can guess which one voted for Hillary. Steve Chapman did too, but he isn’t even distributed here anymore and never worked for Reason.
            But you’ll probably claim that they are all lying.

            1. I’m sure he will. After all, the criticize Trump. That means they voted for Hillary. Q.E.D.

      2. Polls show a great deal of difference between Democrats and Republicans. More so these days than has been true for many decades.

        1. There are certainly temperamental differences (on average) between voters of the two parties. But are the parties themselves all that different in actual effect on what the government does? I’d argue that they aren’t the same, but they are part of the same thing. One can’t save us from the other.

          1. Two sides of the same coin.

    2. the party that is excited to remove all of our individual rights.

      You’re going to have to be more specific.

    3. And what party would that be? From where I see both parties are neck and neck for the race to see which will be most authoritarian. Two states have closed their borders and specially quarantine visitors from other states. Guess which party those governors are associated with?

      1. What an idiotic observation. If the democrats get power back, our 2A rights are gone and they will rapidly pass elements of the green deal. Among other horrors.

    4. The LP wants to take away all of our individual rights? That’s the only party even a plurality of Reason writers have ever supported.









        Ah thanks for that.

        1. OK, perhaps they are all liars. Because they definitely said they voted that way (despite perennial insistence otherwise by idiots) Do you have any reason to believe that besides the voices in your head?

  2. Meanwhile, here in the United States, in Heien v North Carolina the Supreme Court has ruled that ignorance of the law is a perfectly cromulent excuse for the cops. Police can’t be expected to know the details of the laws they’re charged with enforcing and it’s ridiculous to expect them to comply with the law as it is written rather than the way they imagine it is written.

    1. All while citizens are held responsible for breaking laws they didn’t know existed.

      The double standard is glaring.

  3. I’m not sure what I can do in MD. At some point I need to go pick something up from a friend’s house. Am I going to get pulled over driving there? Ridiculous.

    1. I’m not sure about MD specifically but in most states that have issued stay at home orders you can still leave to go to the grocery store, pharmacies, doctor’s offices , etc. so if you get pulled over just tell them you’re on your way to a grocery store or something.

      Just make sure it’s a real cop, here in CO there have been a few cases of people impersonating police officers and pulling people over.

      1. “My suspicions were aroused when he acted too polite for a cop.”

        1. The fact that the driver wasn’t tasered, pepper sprayed, beaten to within an inch of her life, or simply shot while the “cop” shouted “Stop resisting!” is also a dead giveaway.

      2. It’s not near a grocery store. I’ll have to figure out another lie. I would hate to get called on it and they want to search my car.

        1. Buy some groceries before you get there. If the police question you, you’re simply delivering these essentials to your friend.

    2. I coworkers are in MD and VA. They’re talking about curfews and such with a total lock down except for certain approved activities. That which is not permitted is banned. Don’t like it and you can get a hefty fine and/or be sent to a virus infested jail.

      I’m not that affected. I work from home anyway. But it can’t visit my family because they’re all hunkered down, wrapped in plastic wrap with a roll of paper towels in one hand and a bottle of sanitizer in the other. It’s fucking nuts.

      1. Curfews are the absolute dumbest thing they can do.

        Let’s force everyone to congregate in just a few places during a select set of hours rather than allow people to spread out their visits. That makes sense.

        They’d be better off mandating that these essential businesses stay open 24 hours.

        If suppressing disease transmission were the goal anyways.

        1. It’s doing something so it looks like they are doing something. I think that’s what most of this is. Plus getting to throw some authority around is a perk.

          1. Don’t forget the cash grab from issuing fines.

    3. I think it depends on whether what you’re picking up from your friend’s house is medicinal or recreational.

      1. Let’s just say I don’t have a card for it.

  4. The Derbyshire Police are in the wrong.

    So, they have been sacked, right? RIGHT?!

  5. Just tell government to FUCK OFF!

  6. “The whole good cop/bad cop question can be disposed of much more decisively. We need not enumerate what proportion of cops appears to be good or listen to someone’s anecdote about his Uncle Charlie, an allegedly good cop. We need only consider the following: (1) a cop’s job is to enforce the laws, all of them; (2) many of the laws are manifestly unjust, and some are even cruel and wicked; (3) therefore every cop has agreed to act as an enforcer for laws that are manifestly unjust or even cruel and wicked. There are no good cops.” ~Robert Higgs

  7. Reason’s reason for its existence is to monitor and criticize whoever is in power. Ignorance of the law is rampant here in Corrupticut as well as the UK,but more common is the belief that a cop can get away with anything. Which is usually true.

  8. “…leaders insisted that these powers would be used responsibly and specifically for public health matters.”

    That’s really all you need to know. Be afraid… be very afraid.

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