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Sarah Everard vigil, Clapham Common
Sarah Everard vigil, Clapham CommonCourtesy of Sisters Uncut

Sarah Everard vigil sparks clashes between police and mourners

Activist groups and campaigners aim to continue demonstrations following widespread criticism of the Metropolitan police response

Last night (March 13), hundreds of people attended a London vigil for Sarah Everard, whose kidnap and murder has sparked countrywide anger and mourning. Joining doorstep vigils and virtual gatherings across the UK, attendees carried candles and laid flowers at Clapham Common, before an outbreak of violence as police attempted to break up the gathering and silence those addressing the crowds.

The Metropolitan police originally refused to grant a permit to vigil organisers on March 12, the same day it was confirmed that a body discovered in Kent woodland was that of Everard. This decision exacerbated existing tensions, as a serving Metropolitan police officer, PC Wayne Couzens, was charged with the kidnapping and murder on Friday.

The official gathering was subsequently cancelled, with original organisers Reclaim These Streets saying that they “strongly encourage people not to attend”. However, many — including the direct action group Sisters Uncut — attended despite the restrictions, to mourn publicly, protest police violence, and speak out against a culture of violence against women.

“We will not be silenced, we will not ask for permission, we will not be told what to do by violent men,” says Sisters Uncut in a press release.

Tensions rose over the course of the evening, as speakers took to the Clapham Common bandstand to give speeches. Finally, police pressed in, trampled tributes, and attempted to remove the speakers, threatening arrests. Amid physical confrontations, protesters addressed the heavy police presence, chanting: “Shame on you,” and “Arrest your own.” 

“Tonight, thousands of women came to Clapham Common to grieve the death of a woman — allegedly murdered by a male police officer,” adds Sisters Uncut in a tweet following the vigil. “Tonight, Metropolitan police officers waited for the sun to set before they started grabbing and manhandling women in the crowd.”

Four people were reportedly arrested for public order offences and breaches of COVID regulations, with video and images of the arrests shared widely across social media.

The Met’s aggressive response to the vigil has also generated widespread outrage, with activists and politicians calling for the resignation of Metropolitan police head Cressida Dick. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called the response “neither appropriate nor proportionate”, while Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn writes: “The Met Police must answer for their actions at Clapham Common this evening.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel also says that she’s asked the Metropolitan police for a full report on what happened, although this claim follows the Home Office’s recently-announced “Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill”, which has been described by civil liberties groups as a “staggering assault” on the right to protest. The bill will increase authorities’ powers to impose conditions on protests, based on the vaguely-defined “disruption” of communities and organisations.

Previously, Patel has described Black Lives Matter’s anti-racism demonstrations as “dreadful”, and criticised climate protest groups such as Extinction Rebellion, which have faced unprecedented crackdowns during the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier today, Labour MP David Lammy announced that his party will vote against the new policing bill in the wake of of Sarah Everard’s vigil, stating: “This is no time for the government to impose disproportionate controls on the right to protest.”

In a statement shared early this morning (March 14), the Met’s Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball has defended the policing of the London vigil, saying that police were put in a position “where enforcement action was necessary”, citing an “overriding need to protect people’s safety”.

Today, Sisters Uncut are also leading a demonstration at central London’s New Scotland Yard, beginning at 4pm. “Police are perpetrators of individual and state violence against women — as evidenced last night,” the group writes on Twitter. “The police abuse the powers they already have, yet the government plans to give them even more powers in the Police Crackdown Bill. We must resist this.”