Sarah Everard in Memoriam: On Policing Violence

Izzi Vaughan | Editor in Chief

Last night on Clapham Common mourners and protesters gathered for Sarah Everard, a 33 year old woman murdered while she was walking home from her friend’s house at around 9pm on March 3rd. 48 year old Police Officer Wayne Couzens has been arrested on suspicion of murder.

How to join the virtual vigil for Sarah Everard tonight, as UK urged to  light candles on doorstep

Several hundred people gathered on Clapham common to pay Tribute to Sarah Everard, a night which started in peaceful mourning and protest and ended in four arrests after police presence turned violent. Organisers of the event, Reclaim These Streets, had originally planned a COVID safe vigil including 50 trained stewards. Organisers unfortunately had to cancel this event because police refused to ‘constructively engage’ with its planning. Instead, organisers asked mourners to light candles and shine lights on their doorsteps at 21:30, the time Sarah Everard was last seen on the 3rd March. After the event’s cancelation, mourners went to Clapham Common to protest police violence and pay tribute to Sarah Everard.  

Police attempted to disperse the crowd after nightfall, an attempt which ended in four arrests and accusations that officers were ‘manhandling and grabbing’ members of the crowd (The Guardian). One of the arrested, Patsy Stevenson, was aggressively pinned to the ground in a now iconic photograph of the night. She recalls, ‘we were there to remember Sarah. We all felt deeply saddened and still do that it happened so I brought a candle with me but unfortunately wasn’t even able to light it to put it down because the police turned up and barged their way through’. She says she was attending the vigil that night to support all women who do not feel safe to walk the streets alone. She recalls that the night was a peaceful event until officers began to close in and make arrests: ‘I’m 5ft 2in and I weigh nothing. Several police were on my back trying to arrest me’ (The Guardian).

Alastair Johnstone on Twitter: "A woman is arrested by Metropolitan Police  officers at a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard on Clapham Common, London.  Photograph by @jackhillphoto…
Patsy Stevenson’s arrest. Photo credits: @jackhillphoto on Twitter

Sarah Everard’s murder and the events of last night bring to our attention the fundamentally unsafe environment women, the LGBTQ+ and BAME communities experience within society. A society in which police are our attackers, our oppressors, and our fear. Helena Wadia, one of the organisers of last nights vigil, spoke to BBC Radio 5 on self-policing since she was first cat-called at 12 years old. ‘We moderate everything – our clothing, our drinking. We get taxis where maybe we can’t afford it. We hold keys between our fingers. We don’t wear headphones when we’re jogging. We stick to well-lit areas. It’s exhausting.’

On social media, women have been speaking up and sharing their experiences of assault, harassment and feeling unsafe as a result of Sarah Everard’s murder and last night’s vigil. The conclusion? We do not feel safe around men, and we do not feel safe around police. One Twitter user (@xlucymoorex) commented: ‘every woman knows it’s not all men. But we don’t know WHICH men. So we stay wary of ALL men’.

Comparisons have also frequently been drawn to the recent football celebrations, where crowds of fans gathered in the streets with a police escort. But last night, when a few hundred mourner’s gathered for a vigil for a woman killed by one of their own, police were less sympathetic. It goes to show, the first motives of police are never to keep us safe, but to maintain an ordered and oppressive society. Where breaking the law is all well and good when celebrating a football result, but for a woman walking home alone at night, the streets are not so safe.

A petition is currently circulating in light of Sarah Everard’s murder, calling for the legalisation of pepper spray for self-defence purposes.

Hundreds gather in south London to pay tribute to Sarah Everard

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