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Crowd shouts ‘Shame on you’ as London police break up a peaceful vigil for Sarah Everard

Crowd shouts ‘Shame on you’ as London police break up a peaceful vigil for Sarah Everard

At first it all appeared calm.

As night fell on the part of South London where Sarah Everard took her final steps 10 days ago, the clouds parted for one last ray of sun.

At the Clapham bandstand, where thousands had begun to gather for a vigil supposedly canceled because of Covid, someone began beating a drum — its predictable rhythm a reminder of the raft of casual misogyny the crowd said it had come to highlight.

Couples clutched candles, flatmates held flowers; there were many men there as well as women and when the darkness fell, for a minute, they fell silent thinking of a 33-year-old Everard, whose only misfortune appears to have been being out on the streets alone after dark.

Everard was snatched from a busy road while walking home from a friend’s house at around 9:30 p.m. on March 3 in this residential part of London.

Her remains were found around 60 miles from London, in Kent, where a serving Metropolitan Police officer, Wayne Couzens, was arrested and later charged with kidnap and murder.

The randomness of her disappearance and the circumstances under which she disappeared has left women across the capital reeling. Thousands have shared their own experiences of being intimidated or harassed while walking alone at night.

That the suspect is one of its serving officers made this vigil a difficult event for London’s police force to oversee.

At first it appeared they had made an effort to get the optics right, stationing female and male police officers in equal numbers around the crowd.

Less than an hour after the gathering had begun officers moved in to remind people that they were in breach of coronavirus regulations and had to leave.

Soon after, more officers — mostly male — moved in and said they were now ordering people to go, or they would be fined. Arguments erupted.

One woman said “I can’t go home, I’m scared to go home, I have to walk home.”

Then the stage was stormed with women handcuffed and dragged off and into police vans. The crowd shouted: “Shame on you,” “Leave them alone” and “Arrest your own.”

London’s mayor demanded an explanation and politicians from the left and right expressed their outrage at the disproportionate use of force, some even requesting the head of the Met, herself a woman, resign.

Just like the drumbeat this turn of events also felt predictable.

“It doesn’t look good for the Met tonight does it?” said one man being moved on. “Just leave these people to have their moment,” he shouted.

Everard’s death has prompted that moment — a moment of national reckoning on women’s rights in the UK, long overdue, and calls for new laws recognizing misogyny as a hate crime.

Countless Londoners have this week asked themselves why it took a young women’s senseless death for the outpouring of indignation to finally burst forth.

The answer may lie in how swiftly the vigil was silenced on Saturday.

 

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