Protestors march from Scotland Yard to Parliament square on March 14, 2021 (Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty images)
Artillery Row

Stop exploiting the debate on women’s rights

The officers at Clapham Common were misguided, but hijacking Sarah Everard’s death for a political agenda disrespects her memory

On Saturday evening, the Metropolitan police’s aggressive treatment of women attending a vigil for Sarah Everard was beyond the pale. But those hijacking her death for their own political agenda are also disrespecting her memory.

If the dishonest narrative being spun out of her murder feels familiar, that is because it is. Whether intentionally or otherwise, the public reaction is coming to mirror the hysterical response to events that began in Minneapolis last summer.

When George Floyd died under arrest in May last year, sweeping conclusions about the nature of society were drawn before all the facts were in. The sole similarity between the two events is that, feeding on fears and anxieties, they could be made to neatly fit with a particularly febrile worldview.

The Metropolitan police’s aggressive treatment of women attending a vigil for Sarah Everard was beyond the pale

The belief that Floyd’s could be attributed to systemic racism, perpetuated by a racist police force, led to the first wave of moral panic imported from the United States. The relationship between event and reaction seemed inexplicable to most. Protesters carried signs that read “ACAB” – short for ‘all cops are bastards’ – and called for the police to be defunded. In London, the acronym was daubed on Winston Churchill’s statue and in a country where officers are unarmed protesters chanted “hands up don’t shoot”. Law enforcement were demonised and attacked, and months later our institutions are still trying to root out ‘whiteness’ wherever it can be found.

Ideas already held before George Floyd’s death found a hook and rode the wave of public emotion. As Andy Ngo points out in his bestselling book Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy, they did so with more than a little help from well-organised far left activists.

Are we going to allow the death of Sarah Everard to be hijacked in a similar way? Her case chimes with deeply held anxieties, not just of women, but of the men who worry for their sisters, mothers, and daughters. Everard’s friend wrote that her abduction and murder, in her opinion, are not “a symptom of a sexist dangerous society” and warned against the rush to find reasons and “apportion blame”. “There will always be the odd psychopath out there”, she wrote.

Her comments point to the hysterical public response this murder has elicited. Absolutely certain of her diagnosis, Green Party peer Baroness Jenny Jones prescribed a six o’clock curfew for all men, stating that this would lessen “discrimination of all kinds”. Though he has since backtracked, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said he would not rule out such a curfew.

Perhaps drunk on the lockdown kool-aid, their panicked response was to suggest locking all men inside. It suggested this horrifying event was going to be attributed to “cis men” as a group and the murder viewed as indicative of “systemic misogyny”. Rightly, many felt this was unfair and #NotAllMen began trending on Twitter.

Critics themselves saw the similarity and likened #NotAllMen to the slogan “All Lives Matter”. As those who refuse to accept accusations of racism are accused of “white fragility”, these innocent men who insisted this had nothing to do with them were, in essence, told they had “male fragility”. They were sanctimoniously instructed to “educate themselves”. Reminiscent of the slogan “silence is violence”, they were told that though they are not themselves rapists or murderers, if they are not allies, they are enablers.

As usual, the Metropolitan Police seemed not to sense the way the wind was blowing. In the first place, a vigil planned for Saturday by a responsible group of women should never have been illegal. People gathered regardless to pay their respects, lighting candles and laying flowers. With their hands tied by the government’s restriction on protests, and under shoddy leadership that repeatedly gets it wrong, officers tasked with the impossible spectacularly mishandled the situation.

They behaved in a way that perfectly suited the expectations of those who wanted to hijack the tragedy

As scenes emerged of them wrestling women to the ground and trampling over the flowers, people were quick to point out how this jarred with the Met’s light-handed approach to Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion protests, leaving them to rampage through the city leaving a trail of criminal damage. Not only had they bolstered the view that they are a politicised force, they behaved in a way that perfectly suited the expectations of those who wanted to hijack the tragedy.

Following the arrest of serving police officer Wayne Couzens, it was clear in which direction the narrative was about to shift. Some had come to the vigil prepared with placards reading “defund the police” and “ACAB” surrounded by bloody handprints. Crowds were heard shouting “Shame on you” and “You are scum” at the officers. Online, there was chatter of police “attacking women in Clapham” and not being allies. Protesters chanted “arrest your own!” – even though they had indeed already arrested and charged one of their own.

The following day, protesters descended on New Scotland Yard, ostensibly to protest against the shocking behaviour of the police the previous day. However, it was clear that the protest had been hijacked and had very little to do with Everard. Even its anti-police sentiment seemed only lightly tacked on to the events of the previous day.

It is in no one’s interest to allow ourselves to be carried along on another tide of moral panic

The crowd was dense with signs that read “ACAB” and other anti-police slogans, as they chanted to “Defund the Police”. One banner read “Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!” while Socialist Worker signs read “Tear down the sexist system – Abolish killer cops”. As protesters marched to Parliament Square, they chanted the slogan familiar from Black Lives Matter Protests: “No Justice No Peace”. Many of those in the crowd probably did not realise that they were being led in repeating a poem by Assata Shakur. Shakur is a former member of the Black Liberation Army, who fled to Cuba after she was convicted of murdering a cop – she is one of the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ terrorists.

In Parliament Square, protesters took the knee before laying on the ground, held their fists in the air, and shouted “shame on you” in the faces of police who were politely asking them to socially distance. Later in the evening, footage shows police protecting the statue of Sir Winston Churchill – defaced in last summers’ protests. It felt as if women’s rights were nothing more than the ‘hook’ being cynically exploited by pre-existing agenda.

All of this should raise alarm bells. It is in no one’s interest to allow ourselves to be carried along on another tide of moral panic. It is possible to condemn the Met’s behaviour in the strongest terms, while also asking why, if you just wanted to pay your respects to Sarah Everard, would you turn up to a vigil in the first place with a “defund the police” placard?

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