I had a run in with the fake law last week whilst going about my business, which is journalism.
Four PCSO’s (police community support officers) in full Robocop gear wanted to know what I was doing ‘out and about’ as I was about to talk to a restaurant owner. When I realised they were only Community police I immediately walked away throwing a ‘see ya’ over my shoulder (it’s always good to remind these sinister busybodies they have zero powers) but they followed me and the friend I was with so we separated, he going into the railway station to head home and me darting down an alleyway shortcut to the town centre.
I headed back to get my bike passing two more PCSO’s and as I was about to ride off I saw one of them scurrying along searching for someone… ? On reaching home I contacted my friend who told me the PCSO’s had called the police and he had been arrested then de-arrested in the station before being given a fine under covid regulations.
He’d asked them repeatedly what he’d done and they kept replying, ‘you know!’ Now that’s the kind of policing that keeps the public on side isn’t it? He has no intention of paying any fine. But remember folks, with mainstream journalists failing to hold anyone to account as usual we need an army of citizen journalists! So if you’re ever questioned about what you’re doing you know what to say.
And no, you don’t need to show ‘proof’ you’re a journalist. The great Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett, two of the best journalists in the world, if not the best, are not going to whip out their ‘I’m an approved journalist’ card. Approved by whom? Who is fit to approve them? Vanessa has been shortlisted for the Martha Gelhorne Prize in journalism for god’s sake! Her work is her ‘proof’. As is Eva’s. That’s all there is to it.
Who else but independent journalists are going to document the theft of our civil liberties and the frighteningly easy transformation of our already mortally wounded so-called liberal democracy into a full blown police state? Orwell surely had a chapter left in a drawer in which a free sovereign citizen steps outside their front door and is grilled by the police as to why they have dared do so, where the same citizen enters a supermarket and is charged after by an agitated security guard who, when the customer tells him they are mask exempt holds out his hand demanding, ‘where’s your proof?’
This happened to me a couple of weeks ago in my local Morrison’s and after giving him a piece of my mind the security guard pointed me to a nearby manager who agreed with him! I hit record on my phone at this point and asked her if she was telling me that Morrison’s staff have the right to demand of customers their private medical information? ‘Yes’ she declared defiantly. I told her it was always a big mistake to stupidly and blindly follow company orders so that you end up breaching the law.
I then revealed that I had recorded her and she looked suddenly panicked whining that she hadn’t given me permission. ‘What are you afraid of?’ I asked and continued shopping. I emailed Morrison’s press office about this and they replied saying they’d been in touch with the store and confirmed they had reminded managers of exemption regulations.
Next time I was in there no probs with security but a woman customer looked at me irritatedly then tapped her mask pronouncing ‘where’s yours?’ in a very hectoring tone. I gave her short shrift telling her she has no right to question me or harass me and lecturing her on the Equality Act before telling her to ‘move on’. A few days later I was on a double decker bus and got a few dirty looks before a couple sat me behind me loudly discussing the fact I wasn’t wearing a mask.
The man then jabbed me on the shoulder and quite aggressively asked me for an explanation. I was really pissed off but took the opportunity to lecture the whole bus full of people and when I was done the man at least had the good grace to apologise to me. I then got on a train and was speaking to a friend on the phone when a young guy in his twenties approached me saying he wanted to talk to me. I put up my hand and continued talking but he said, ‘so I can’t talk to you?’ !!
I replied, ‘I’m on the phone, go away’. He then came around and stood blocking my exit out of my seat, loomed over me and repeated in a forceful tone that he wanted to talk to me. I said as assertively as I could muster, ‘move – now!’ to which he replied, ‘or what?’ I said, ‘are you threatening me?’ and told him I would call the guard. ‘Call em’ he said, so I raised my voice and boomed ‘stop harassing me!!’
When he tried to speak again I repeated this even louder and he then moved off complaining he wasn’t harassing me! I still don’t know if this was anything to do with my not wearing a mask but I suspect it was; the thing is this psycho could have had a knife for all I knew. I hate that he even put me in the position of wondering if I might be attacked his behaviour was so abnormal. I should have reported him but I had an appointment to get to and didn’t want to be late.
On a lighter note, back to Morrisons – I usually don’t go in there this often but have been visiting more frequently to test their treatment of mask exempt customers. When I was queuing at the checkout the cashier saw me and looking absolutely terrified, immediately called over another staff member before pointing to me; the staff member then scurried off. As I got nearer and began placing my items on her conveyor belt she looked more and more panicked, throwing irritated glances at me then scouring the shop desperately.
I overheard her talking to the customer in front of me about ‘these people’ but didn’t catch the rest. Just as she would have had to serve me another cashier arrived and said they were swapping over. I asked why and the first cashier said she was going home. This all looked suspiciously as if Morrison’s is allowing their staff not to serve people who are exempt from wearing masks. I can’t prove this but the cashier’s behaviour was comical in its panic.
The fact that there was a huge plastic screen between us and she was, herself, wearing a mask adding to the farce. I emailed their press office again asking them to comment and reminding them that under the Equality Act all customers should be treated the same. They responded assuring me they had ‘been in contact with the store’.
This woman was an utter moron, of course. Imagine the mentality needed to act this way, scurrying off as if your life is in immediate danger at the mere site of someone not wearing a face nappy; petrified of a virus with a survival rate pushing 99.9%. What the fuck is going on? Allowing yourself to be manipulated into a state of fear to this degree by a corporate state with a proven track record of lying to the public with impunity is stupidity on the grandest scale.
This is life, then, for me in the era of covid: a daily obstacle course of dodging law enforcement and facing down aggressive, misinformed numbskulls who would have been snitching on their neighbours in Nazi Germany if they suspected them of harbouring a Jew. The kind of people seemlessly combining their slavish obedience to authority with a nasty, self righteous McCarthyism as they embrace their moral duty to expose anyone stepping out of line.
Such as these will have a lot to answer for when the dust clears. Meanwhile, those of us who navigate this nightmare with our eyes wide open continue to fight for the civil liberties of all. Even those who condemn us now.
Alison Banville is co-editor of BSNews, an independent journalist, writer, singer-songwriter and poet.