The UK is reeling over the Metropolitan Police’s handling of Saturday night’s vigil for Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman murdered while walking home earlier this month.
Her alleged killed is a serving member of the same police force, CNN reported.
Mourners gathered in solidarity to Clapham Common’s bandstand, where the young woman was last seen to pay homage to her life. The large gathering was also an acknowledgment of the shared, omnipresent experience of intimidation, violence, and harassment common among UK women regarding public spaces.
Organizers planned to start their series of evening “Reclaim These Streets” vigils on Saturday, with the main event being at Clapham Common, but it was canceled after the Met cited COVID-19 restrictions.
After news of the cancellation, organizers asked people to shine a light on their doorstep for Everard and for others who have lost their lives to violence.
However, peaceful mourners still gathered for the socially distanced event in Clapham and chanted, “This is a vigil; we do not need your services.” Shortly after, officers moved in to disperse the group of people and told them they were breaching COVID-19 regulations and must leave. The group of police—predominantly males—moved in using containment and corralling techniques.
Officers’ tactics corralled people into a smaller area that didn’t allow social distancing and order them to leave or face arrest and fines.
Officers forcibly removed women from the bandstand, dropping some face down so that they could arrest them. Attendees chanted, “Shame on you,” “Arrest your own,” and “Who do you protect?”
Following the event, the Met police released a statement saying they “absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary.” But said that they were “placed in this position because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety.”
A now-viral picture of a woman pinned down by officers caused Home Office minister Victoria Atkins to address the issue during an interview on Sky News Sunday morning, saying it is “something that the police will have to explain in that report to the Home Secretary.” She added that the British government is taking the “very upsetting scenes” very seriously.
New videos of the attendees scuffling with the police on Saturday continue to emerge. Several UK leaders agree that the police response was disproportionately harsh. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, ordered “a full independent investigation of events yesterday evening and in previous days” and says he was not satisfied with the explanation he was given after speaking with the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner.
Last week, he called on the government and police to work with organizers of the vigil and “find a way for it to take place legally and safely.”
“In my view, this was not the case.” Khan said, adding that the scenes were “completely unacceptable.” He also “completely understands why women, girls, and allies wanted to hold a vigil to remember Sarah and all women who have been subjected to violence or lost their lives at the hands of men, and to reclaim the public spaces where women are made to feel so unsafe.”