On Saturday, thousands of people headed to Clapham Common. They were there to pay tribute to a south Londoner: Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old who went missing while walking home on March 3, and whose death a police officer has since been charged with.
Everard’s story has inspired a massive online conversation. People took to social media to share the realities of walking around the city as a woman. Men asked how they could help make women feel safer. And there was also a lot of sadness and anger.
So when the organisers of the Clapham vigil revealed that they were going to have to call it off as law enforcers had said it was a violation of lockdown rules and, therefore, illegal, it’s unsurprising that some of those who planned to attend still did so. London-based direct action feminist group Sisters Uncut led the charge – and hundreds of people, including Kate Middleton, headed into the park to lay flowers, hold candles and grieve.
Just hours later social media was full of pictures of police using what protesters are calling ‘unnecessary’ force to end the event. We saw women pinned to the ground and officers trampling on flowers and shouting at attendees. Many saw it as a physical representation of the way women are treated by society – that the police do not protect them when they report violence against them. Others saw it as yet another example of the Met police using unnecessary violence. The Met argue that they behaved in that way ‘because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety’.
The result has been the triggering of a wave of protests and vigils providing space both for us to feel sadness and anger about the violence all women (trans and cis) experience daily and to fight against a new bill – the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – that will strengthen existing rules around the restrictions that can be put on protests. There was a protest outside New Scotland Yard on Sunday afternoon and there’s another in Trafalgar Square tonight.
Over the course of a weekend, massive conversations have been restarted – about women’s safety but also how much power law enforcers should really be given, just like the BLM protests of last summer. Let’s hope it leads to positive change. Scroll on for more pictures of the events.
Find out the details of this evening’s vigil in Trafalgar Square.