People of colour were more likely than white people to be fined for attending illegal raves or other events featuring “amplified music” during Covid lockdowns in England and Wales, data has shown.
According to figures released by the National Police Chiefs’ Council under freedom of information laws, 441 fines were issued to people across England and Wales for attending events involving “amplified music” between the introduction of lockdown rules in March 2020 and the lifting of restrictions in July 2021.
Black, Asian and mixed race people accounted for more than a third of these fines, despite making up less than 15% of the overall UK population.
Of the 342 fines issued across England and Wales where the ethnicity of the recipient was recorded by police, 18% were issued to people listed as Black, 11% to people listed as Asian and 6% to people of mixed race. Only 60% of “amplified music” fines were issued to white people, despite this group comprising more than 80% of the UK.
While there is no data for the overall ethnic breakdown of those who attended illegal music events during lockdown, experts and campaigners said the figures pointed to clear disproportionality in the way minority communities were policed during the pandemic.
A joint investigation in 2021 between the Guardian and the human rights organisation Liberty revealed that Black people were 54% more likely to be fined for breaching pandemic regulations as a whole, with the policing of “amplified music” events representing a particularly stark example of these wider disparities.
“The government’s approach during Covid was too broad, and laid the foundations for overzealous and inconsistent policing,” said Emmanuelle Andrews, policy and campaigns manager at Liberty. “We saw throughout Covid that marginalised communities, those in deprived areas and people of colour really bore the brunt of fines and over-policing in general.”
This, said Andrews, was entirely in keeping with the over-representation of Black and minority ethnic people in police statistics and across the wider criminal justice system outside the pandemic. “This isn’t new,” she said. “These disparities weren’t created by Covid, but the pandemic certainly amplified existing racism and discrimination.”
Experts have also drawn connections between data on unlicensed events during Covid, and the broader policing of Black and Asian music events, such as the Metropolitan police’s much-criticised use of form 696 to shut down events featuring grime artists or catering to predominately Black audiences between 2008 and 2017. The Met was responsible for 203 of the 441 “amplified music” fines issued across England and Wales during lockdown, by far the largest number of any individual police force.
“These statistics are shocking but not surprising,” said Lambros Fatsis, a senior lecturer in criminology at the University of Brighton, whose research focuses on the policing of Black British music genres such as grime and drill. “Whenever Black music is policed, we see it associated with disorder. The notion that something doesn’t belong, doesn’t count as music or art, doesn’t fit the mould of what we consider normal.
“Four cellists walking into a park to play music together wouldn’t be seen as a threat, but four or five Black kids rapping over a track on their phones might be. It’s a culmination of wider attitudes to cultural difference and notions of civility.”
Responding to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: “Covid-19 data related to fixed-penalty notices can only tell us how many fines were issued and to whom. What the data cannot tell us is whether or not the number of FPNs issued at such events was reflective of the specific demographic who were in attendance. It is therefore not possible to say whether their issue at these events was proportionate in that singular context, or not.
“Covid presented an unprecedented set of public health responsibilities for police to take on, and we did it in the fairest way possible. An independent ethics committee guided the decisions of chiefs at every stage. Where mistakes were made, forces quickly sought to make clarifications, and rescinded FPNs where it was appropriate to do so.”