The Problem Is the Police

The Problem Is the Police
Photo:Hollie Adams (Getty Images)

Protesters and politicians are calling for an investigation into the Metropolitan’s Police response to Saturday night’s vigil for Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old woman who was killed while walking home from a friend’s house earlier this month.

Ahead of the somber event—sparked by an outpouring of grief and a national reckoning with gender-based violence—a court ruled that the gathering was unlawful because it violated covid regulations. But while the vigil’s organizers called off the vigil as they originally planned it, crowds gathered anyway. What happened next is familiar for anyone who paid attention to the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in the U.S.—particularly those that occurred after city-imposed curfews—over the summer: As night fell, people who attended the peaceful demonstration quickly became targets for arrest.

Protesters say that about an hour into the vigil, police informed protesters that they had to disperse due to the covid restrictions, and more officers appeared on the scene. Police reportedly surrounded the throng of protesters and informed them that if they didn’t leave they would be fined or arrested. Officers also trampled flowers people had left near the area where Everard was last seen, according to those in attendance.

One viral image shows a woman named Patsy Stevenson being pinned to the ground by police officers. Stevenson maintained that she was “just standing there” at the time of her arrest. She was one of four people arrested on Saturday.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick has so far refused to bow to demands that she resign her post, but she has agreed that a “sober review” of officers’ tactics at the vigil is necessary. And it’s what she’ll get, more or less: After widespread backlash, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel have commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a “lessons learned review” of the force’s handling of the event.

That a vigil dedicated to decrying violence against women resulted in images and footage of police roughly arresting women is layered with upsetting ironies. Everard’s murder has given rise to a movement primarily focused on raising people’s awareness of (some) women’s constant fear of misogynist violence, but it might have been more precise if it had made state violence its focus from the start: The man suspected of killing Everard is a police officer. These two forms of violence are, of course, overlapping and connected, and not just in Everard’s case.

“Regardless of intention, the barrage of tweets conflating Everard’s killing with instances of catcalling or general street harassment obfuscate the murderer’s status as a police officer and erase the infrastructure responsible for pervasive, racist violence against people of all genders,” Charlotte Shane wrote in an essay over the weekend. “The popular imagination of a sidewalk sneak attack, for instance, obscures the plausibility that the murderer approached Everard not as an random stranger but as an official authority figure.”

When calls to defund the police swelled in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, some raised the specter of gender-based violence: If a woman was assaulted or abused, for example, where would she turn without the police? What officers’ response to Everard’s vigil makes all too clear is that police don’t exist to protect women; their response to violence against women can only be more violence.

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