The police violence at Reclaim These Streets is an insult to women everywhere

Sarah Everard deserved so much better, and so do we

In light of the disappearance of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman who was kidnapped on her walk home from Clapham and found murdered in a builder’s bag in Kent, and a UN Women survey revealing that 97 per cent of young women have been sexually assaulted, a surge of anger has taken over the internet in recent days.

The timing of Sarah’s disappearance and the 97 per cent statistic in conjunction with Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah and International Women’s Day is so relevant, and as a result, has so blatantly reminded us all what women have to go through, still, in 2021.

As a result, the ‘Reclaim These Streets’ group organised vigils around the country for Sarah Everard and every other woman who has been threatened on the streets at night, with one being held at the Clapham Common bandstand near the scene of the crime. As well as a symbol of mourning for a woman just trying to walk home, the vigils were an act of resistance and a message to men everywhere that things need to change.

However, on the 12th March, a day before the vigil was to take place, Reclaim These Streets posted that the Metropolitan Police had “reversed their position and stated that the vigil would be unlawful.”

They arranged a Crowdfunder overnight in order to pay the lawyers working with them on the case, reaching the £30,000 target within hours,  however it was announced this morning that they have been forced to cancel due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Covid-19 is a poor excuse and an easy one to hide behind. The vigils were not protests and they were not riots – they were socially distanced, safe movements to mourn our freedom and safety, and let it be known that we do not stand for inequality and abuse.

In updates of the people that still attended the vigils yesterday despite the official cancellation, reports of police violence used to disperse the crowds have left us outraged. Within the hour they were asking people to leave which then led to forceful violence and arrests, not even allowing us a peaceful night of respect for Sarah and solidarity with women everywhere.

As well as trying to silence our voices, the cancellation and violence of the vigils also signifies the police’s position on the matter – in particular as the man arrested and charged for Sarah Everard’s murder was an off-duty Met police officer. It tells us all, loud and clear, that the police do not stand for women’s rights, and do not see the necessity that we should be able to walk alone at night, and all the time, without fear.

It tells us that still, after the kidnapping and murder of a woman walking in practical shoes, wearing bright clothing, on a main road and on the phone to her boyfriend, we are the ones expected to change our behaviour. That we may never have the freedom to walk out of our front door without fear, and that if something happens to us it will always be considered ‘our fault’. That the patriarchy and the men behind it will refuse to give us a voice, and will fuel the rape culture that has forced us to constantly doubt whether we will arrive at our destination.

When will we be taken seriously and when will men take responsibility?

The sad reality of the news circulating around in recent days is that nobody is shocked. I do not know a single man or woman who was shocked at the 97 per cent statistic, or that in the time that Sarah Everard’s case has been going on, yet another girl has gone missing in London. Because this is the world we live in, and this is the reality for nearly every woman in the country, and we are tired of it.

The #notallmen trend, in addition to the Met’s response to Reclaim These Streets, is just another insult to women and everyone in this movement. It makes the problem personal and ego-centric instead of a reminder of the social structure that needs to be torn down, and therefore distracts from the real issue at stake. This is not about the individual man that swears he’s never hurt a woman in his life, it’s about his ignorance to his male friend’s inappropriate behaviour to girls on nights out, and it’s about the fact that not all men, but too many men, are harming women.

How can we make this known if we do not have a voice? How can we mourn Sarah Everard and the 97 per cent of women in this country who have unfairly been objected to harassment without their consent if we are forced to leave Reclaim These Streets? Its significance was everything to this movement, and the Met’s disregard of its importance and violent response is a disgusting insult that we cannot forgive.

As well as the unofficial in-person vigils, virtual events and ‘Doorstep Vigils’  were arranged as replacements, as well as a fundraiser set up by the Reclaim These Streets organisers to gather the £320,000 which would have been the total fine for each of the vigils around the country. Even though our society and our police deny us justice and a voice, we will not be silenced, and while they can never bring back Sarah Everard or take away the pain experienced by so many women, the active participation of every ally is working for a better future.

By cancelling the vigils and then disrespecting them by turning to violence, the Met have made me angrier and willing to shout louder than before, and I hope that you feel the same. We do not deserve this abuse, and the police’s lack of support for women’s fundamental rights is downright insulting, if not telling of the society we live in.

Do not stay quiet, stand up for what is right, and never let them take your power from you.

Image Credits: Elena Vrdn