Here’s a puzzle for you. How can police caution two grandparents and tell them to leave their son’s garden because they have exceeded the permitted gathering of six people when over 15,000 protesters were allowed to pack Hyde Park in response to the brutal death of George Floyd in the United States?
How is it that grief-stricken relatives are not allowed to attend the funeral of a beloved uncle because it is against the law, but furious youngsters get a free pass as they deface the statue of Winston “is a racist” Churchill?
How does Housing Minister Robert Jenrick keep a straight face when he says reopening churches will have to wait because the “exhalation’ during the singing of hymns is a problem? And I suppose, Mr Jenrick, that scores of protesters pursuing Met officers, as they beat a frantic retreat down Whitehall, don’t present an exhalation problem with their foul, four-lettered, airborne oaths?
Donnez-moi un break!, as the old Boris was wont to exclaim. In the Orwellian lockdown we now inhabit, “Holy, Holy, Holy (Lord God Almighty)”, which congregations should have been singing at full throttle on Trinity Sunday, is banned because it allegedly presents a danger to public health. Yet, on that same Sunday, there was no limitation on gleeful, expectorated cries of “F--- the police!”
Churches, it turns out, are in the bottom category of “the most dangerous and least important services” along with beauty salons and pubs. (Funny, they would be in my top 3 most important.) Even though C of E services are so sparsely attended that social distancing is a poignant fact of Anglican life. Meanwhile, if you fancy assembling a throng to hurl bottles into Downing Street or push a bicycle into a horse – please step this way!
That, ladies and gentlemen, was the deeply troubling double-standard in law enforcement which we witnessed over the weekend. As it happens, I admire many of the young people who took to the streets to show solidarity with their black friends and neighbours. The young, not being calloused by cynicism, feel injustice keenly and, if you think racial injustice no longer exists in this country, well, that’s because you’re in the wrong (or right) colour skin.
I also think the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston should have been taken down years ago and put in a museum where it belongs. Colston transported 100,000 men, women and children from Africa to America and mislaid 20,000 on the way. No one should have to look up to that.
But none of this means it’s OK for the police to turn a blind eye to criminal damage. Superintendent Andy Bennett of Avon and Somerset Police explained that arresting protestors, as they grappled with Colston’s statue, “would have caused more disorder and disruption”. He understood “the frustration and anger many Bristolians have felt towards the statue over the years”.
It may come as a surprise to Supt Bennett, but the police are not paid to moralize or empathize, they’re supposed to enforce the law. A fear that you may provoke protesters further if you attempt to restrain them is not enlightened law enforcement, it’s a green light for anarchy.
Things were no better in London where we saw a collapse in Metropolitan policing standards. “Officers displayed extreme patience and professionalism throughout a long and difficult day,” said Commissioner Cressida Dick following scarcely believable scenes of frightened coppers running away from gleeful demonstrators.
Coppers I saw in the melee who looked more like traffic wardens than riot police. Dame Cressida seemed to neither allow her officers to defend themselves or provide enough PPE to guarantee their safety. Thirty-five suffered horrible injuries as a result, betrayed by their PC boss.
In the Commons, Priti Patel went some way to restoring public confidence when she vowed to bring violent “thugs” to justice. Still, the suspicion remained that the one thing both Government and police fear more than civil unrest is an accusation of racism. The rules on social distancing apply to everyone, or none at all.
Read Allison Pearson at telegraph.co.uk every Tuesday, from 7pm