Policing the Pedal Rebels: A Case Study of Environmental Activism Under COVID-19


Australia, along with nation-states internationally, has entered a new phase of environmentally focused activism, with globalised, coordinated and social media–enabled environmental social movements seeking to address human-induced climate change and related issues such as the mass extinction of species and land clearing. Some environmental protest groups such as Extinction Rebellion (XR) have attracted significant political, media and popular commentary for their sometimes theatrical and disruptive forms of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience. Drawing on green and cultural criminology, this article constitutes an autoethnographic account of environmental protest during the final stages of the initial COVID-19 lockdown in NSW, Australia. It takes as a case study a small protest by an XR subgroup called the Pedal Rebels. The article explores the policing of environmental protest from an activist standpoint, highlighting the extraordinary police resources and powers mobilised to regulate a small peaceful group of ‘socially distanced’ protesters operating within the existing public health orders. It places an autoethnographic description of this protest in the context of policing practice and green and cultural criminology. Additionally, it outlines the way in which such policing is emboldened by changes to laws affecting environmental protest, making activism an increasingly risky activity.

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, content in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Published: 2021-06-01
Pages:156 to 168
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How to Cite
Lee, M. (2021) “Policing the Pedal Rebels: A Case Study of Environmental Activism Under COVID-19”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 10(2), pp. 156-168. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.1887.

Author Biography

The University of Sydney

Murray Lee is Professor of Criminology and Associate Dean of Research at the University of Sydney Law School. His work focuses broadly on representations and perceptions of crime, processes of criminalisation, and representations of policing. He is author, co-author, or co-editor of six books including Inventing Fear of Crime: Criminology and the Politics of Anxiety, Fear of Crime: Critical Voices in and Age of Anxiety (with Stephen Farrall), and The Routledge International Handbook on Fear of Crime (with Gabe Mythen).