On Wednesday March 3, Sarah Everard left a friends home in London and disappeared. On March 9, the police confirmed that they had arrested a police officer. The following day her body was found in woodland in Ashford, Kent.
Sarah was found in a heavy duty bag, she was identified by dental records. Something truly awful had happened to her and it was clear that she had been kidnapped and murdered.
This tragedy sparked a wave of pain across the UK and millions of women realised that it could so easily have been them or their daughters. Patriarchy, machismo and predatory men once again came into the the fore. Social media began to fill with video and photos of women's everyday experiences being harassed my strangers on the street and at home. Survivors spoke out about the awful realities which seem all to easy to turn a blind eye too.
There was a call for a vigil, organised by Reclaim These Streets to be held on the bandstand of Clapham Common. Despite the pandemic, there was a need to mourn and to come together. Plans were made, health and safety precautions prepared, and people began to share the posts and make arrangements.
In all there were 32 planned vigils across the UK.
They attempted to work with the police to find a mutually agreeable model for the vigil in London. Making a variety of suggestions which would have been in line with the Covid regulations and intended to provide marshalling to ensure this. Their attempts to consciously meet the police in a compromise were met with refusal after refusal. They were told that each of the women organising these vigils would face a £10,000 fine and possibly criminalisation.
They set out to work closely with the Metropolitan Police so that women could stand together safely and mourn a sister whose life was cut short. The police had a responsibility to work with them to facilitate the gathering -there is no blanket ban after all, not even on “protest"- and even the judge who heard their appeal against this decision said that the legal claim shouldn't have been necessary.
In the end mear hours before the event they were forced to capitulate under these threats and decided to call for a doorstop vigil and the raising of £320,000 (£10,000 for each location) which would be donated to women's charities.
Regardless, yesterday the bandstand became an ocean of flowers, visited even by the likes of Kate Middleton, a peaceful gathering began to take place, informal and ad hoc. Women began to speak.
The police response was light, a handful of women in uniform began made their presence felt but respected the event and stood around much as they do any event with a crowd.
The women continued to speak.
They spoke of the system, our society and the failure of the police.
They spoke of lives sow with fear, of control and constraint.
They spoke of men, predatory and possessive.
They spoke of the police.
As twilight came, so did the rest of the police, the slowly closing snare was ready. The police made thier move with 12-20 of them taking to the bandstand as others were clearly tasked with targetted arrests. For the unfamiliar, this is where several police swarm you out of the blue and pull you into their lines. It can happen in seconds and usually you don't see it coming. It's a tactic designed to sow discord and terror, it's primarily used during riots and major unrest, tho they practice the tactic on hunt sabs on occasion.
The police like to wait for the sun to fall mind.
In the dark, they can use fear and intimidation more effectively. Regardless of the context, it's in their blood. They tend to play nice in the sunshine, oh we're your best friend, just looking out for you etc. however that smiling face turns stern once Silver Command give the go ahead and it's time to start forcing you to disperse. This didn't happen for the footie lads having a party, it didn't really happen for the tinfoil hat brigades, but these women were not just some reckless bunch having a laugh. They were talking about our broken system and of better worlds where women aren't murdered at the rate of one every three days in the UK alone. They were speaking about the hundreds of incidences of domestic violence within the police community that get reported each year, and those that don't. They were talking about a serving police officer who had brutally murdered a young woman as she was walking home.
Clearly something must be done eh?
In their police line they stomped through the crowd, pushing and shoving, using their force of presence, trained machismo weaponised, against women holding a vigil. MOVE! STEP BACK!.
They moved onto the bandstand and silencing the women who were speaking, despite callings to "let her speak".
For some arbitrary reason, it was now mandatory that every woman now move out of the bandstand.
It was theirs now. There is no reason why, other than to illustrate their force.
Some refused to move.
Others, perhaps socialised to obey the demanding voices of authority, or perhaps just fearful of what'll happen if they remained put, started to move away
Others began to chant.
“SHAME ON YOU”
“SHAME ON YOU”
“SHAME ON YOU”
A peaceful vigil and mourning had turned into a protest. The culprits now stood on the bandstand shoving women away, the policewomen who had stood around early right there alongside them, blue runs think in the veins who sold their conscience to the state.
A few women stood grasping onto the frame of the bandstand, mobbed by police. Threats drilled into their ears, once, twice, right that's it. The hands come down on them and they are yanked away from the fence and slammed into the floor, two cops per as the handcuffs go on. (Video footage on Twitter)
The crowd, a mixture of women from all backgrounds, scream out in shock and horror at the behaviour of the police. I suspect for some it'll have been the first time they would have seen what happens when you come together against the wishes of the state.
The moments are tense as they stand off. Hundreds of women illuminate the area with their phones in protest. Still the cops shove people away from them as they go about the buisness attempting to put women in their place, "Behave of you'll be nicked!". This demand for passivity is unidirectional ofcourse. As the ersatz protectors carry on pushing their way through the crowd, any pushback being responded to swiftly and severely. The soulless automatic movement of suppression coming natural to them as they use their their might to shut down these women who had came to hold a vigil for a woman who was murdered by a serving police officer.
The moment for memorial shattered by police violence.
The flowers now lay squashed, trodden apart under the boots of cops.
Even while things were still going on, the shock at the footage rang through even the more honed and carefully crafted of twitter accounts.
Priti Patel said the footage was “upsetting” and would demand a full report, Sadic Khan said “it's clear the response was at times neither appropriate nor proportionate.” Even Keith said "The scenes in Clapham this evening are deeply disturbing. Women came together to mourn Sarah Everard - they should have been able to do so peacefully."
Elsewhere on social media freeman prats and the rightwing have already started bleeting on about how it's all a set up, as they doxx a women involved and the youtube comments sections manufacture a narrative of people protesting the vigil and shadowy trouble makers heading there to cause trouble. Tho they happily ignore these very same things happening prior to covid ofcourse.
There is quite literally a very long history of women in the UK and around the world being brutalised by police forces for standing up to the systematic failings they are forced to endure. I guess there is always an excuse why "this time" it's ok to assault women and stop them rallying against the systematic abuse they endure.
They can't fathom for a moment that women might be upset at the murder and violence that permeates our collective mindset. Speaking up against the failures of the state must be some leftwing conspiracy which we must stand against. You can practically hear the cognative dissonance as lifetimes of worshipping authority refuse to let them see the police for what they are, hi-vis bully boys and a symptom of a deep sickness within our society.
The police could of stood aside as they did elsewhere such as over in London Fields. They could of understood the situation and the pain the women gathered felt. They could of taken a contextually appropropriate response and followed it up the next day.
But no, all they know is control through fear and violence.
This isn't about Covid regulations.
It's about women not doing what they are told.
It's about a display of force from an organisation which has hundreds of domestic violence incidents within it each year.
It's about Sarah Everard and She Was Just Walking Home. ■
Featured Image taken by @jackhillphoto
Additional 1 (9:57)
The woman in the photo has since issued a short video call out in which she says:
"Hello I'm Patsy. After what happened today at Clapham Common I want to redirect the focus away from the police & towards what happened. We need to be seen & heard & that's why I'm calling for everyone to meet at 5pm, 15 March, Parliament Square see you there"
Additional 2 (10:34)
Sisters Uncut are calling for a protest/second vigil at New Scotland Yard this afternoon 4pm. All genders welcome, wear a mask, be covid-safe!