Following the tragic murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, it wasn’t long before a vigil was organised on Clapham Common, close to where she was last seen. But the Met told women to stay home, citing Covid-19 rules and warning of fines. Despite this, thousands went anyway. Women were armed with candles, bunches of flowers and, because all of the local shops sold out of bouquets, even houseplants and trays of pansies.
It was nothing but peaceful and powerful, but once the sun set the police decided time was up. Women were forcibly removed from the bandstand, bodies were slammed to the ground, people were arrested, flowers were trampled and some bodies were left bruised. Women protesting male violence got violently dragged away by the (majority male) officers on duty.
Subsequently, the front pages were awash with affecting images of police brutality and what followed were calls for Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Dame Cressida Dick, to resign. She is adamant she won’t (“what has happened makes me more determined, not less, to lead my organisation. I’ve listened to what people have been saying in the last week, I know that in the streets all across the UK women don’t feel as safe as we would all like women to feel. I am utterly determined.”) Boris Johnson said the images were “very distressing”, despite newspapers reporting that Dick had the government's full confidence.
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey was resolute: “Cressida Dick has lost the confidence of the millions of women in London and should resign. This was a complete, abject, tactical and moral failure on the part of the police. We, therefore, call on you to consider your leadership of the service.”
Yesterday (Wednesday) marked the third day that hundreds of women gathered in Parliament Square, outside Scotland Yard, to protest - a demonstration organised by Sisters Uncut, the feminist direct action group that led the vigil at Clapham Common after Reclaim These Streets was cancelled. The demonstration also coincides with the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which effectively curtails the ability to protest, and has unnervingly just passed its second reading.
Speaking to BURO., Sisters Uncut said they believe Cressida Dick represents a particular type of authoritarian policing. “We don't believe in any expansion of police power, which from evidence only increases violence towards women, girls and gender-nonconforming people, especially those who are racialized. We are calling for abolition of the structures that put us at risk and increase our proximity to violence”.
A YouGov poll, however, is at odds with their wish. When the public was asked whether Cressida Dick should resign, just 23% said yes.
Kevin Blowe, the co-ordinator for Netpol (the Network for Police Monitoring), says the focus on removing Dick, “kind of misses the point,” believing that her successor would adopt the same approach. This, he argues, is an institutional problem that affects the entirety of Britain’s police force, not just the Met.
And while this may have come to the fore through the mainstream, the complaints are all too familiar to those in the margins. You need only look to the summer 2020 protests of Black Lives Matter, where police brutality has been their catalyst. Indeed, for them, this is a “welcome to the club moment” says Blowe.
Even though, according to former Labour politician and Police Minister John Denham, “the wrong judgement was made [at Sarah’s vigil],” the main problem here is “male attitudes.” And in the context of Black Lives Matter, it’s racist ones. Such issues not only sweep rank and file but society as a whole.
There may be a woman at the helm of the Met, but only a quarter of its officers are female, and the scariest realisation is that the crime in question was, most likely committed by someone who was supposed to protect us. It’s worth noting that between 2012 and 2018, over 550 officers in the Met were accused of sexual assault. Just 43 of them faced any disciplinary action.
Like racism, misogyny is pervasive and pernicious. It’s built into the fabric of our society. While Dick is ultimately responsible for The Met’s behaviour on her watch, there's little benefit that would come from her resignation. What Sarah’s case has exposed is a wider culture of male violence and a criminal justice system that isn’t up to scratch. The fact that misogyny will, from autumn, be treated as a hate crime, is a step in the right direction, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It is, after all, overshadowed by a bill that “protects statues more than women.”
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