No Protests, No Demonstrations. No Safety, No Voice

Something terrible has happened on Plague Island recently. A 33 year-old woman named Sarah Everard disappeared in South London when walking home from a friend’s house on the evening of 3rd March. It’s a developing story but PC Wayne Couzens – a serving Metropolitan Police Officer, of all things – has tonight been charged with her kidnap and murder, after her body was found in woodland in Kent.

Police have been actively trying to prevent the ‘Reclaim These Streets’ vigil; a peaceful, socially distanced vigil organised by a group of women who want to demonstrate their ‘collective grief, outrage and sadness in our community’ (Reclaim These Streets). The purpose is to hold a short gathering on Clapham Common, where Everard walked though before her disappearance, and have a one-minute’s silence to remember her and all women whose lives have been lost to violence.

However, whilst having tried to ‘navigate a way through’, the Metropolitan Police have stated that their ‘hands are tied’ by the new regulations to curb peaceful protests. Anyone attending the vigil could face tens of thousands of pounds in fines or prosecution under the Serious Crimes Act.

This decision has being challenged by the group’s lawyers. Labour MP Harriet Harman has defended the vigil. The High Court have been involved today, but Mr. Justice Holgate refused an application for an ‘interim declaration’ (Sky News). In short, the Judge’s decision means that it is up to the police as to whether this vigil can go ahead.  

Whilst Reclaim These Streets were ‘pleased’ by the High Court outcome, Commander Catherine Roper, the Met’s lead for community engagement, appeared to ask women to find alternative ways to express their views, due to London’s ongoing battle with Covid-19.

But, wait a minute: I’m sorry, but what the fuck is going on?

This one should be a no-brainier. Of course, the country is still grappling with a pandemic and any sort of public gathering must be well-organised in order to observe social distancing, adhere to mask wearing, etc. However, look at the gates at school drop-off and pick-up times on Plague Island, and you will see that social distancing is usually next-to-none. I don’t see police patrolling there and handing out fines and making arrests. 

So, you have to wonder just why exactly are people being silenced? It is because something like a vigil kind of looks like a demonstration, which the government seem to have a zero tolerance for at the moment. What it appears to be is that the police use their judgement in some situations and apply broad-brush rulings in others. It seems that when it involves a protest or any kind of demonstration lately, this is a Big No-No.

This outdoor, socially distanced, peaceful vigil should be allowed to proceed with the involvement of the police; not with them as a blocker. The police should be helping to organise it, so that attendees have confidence that it will comply with government rules. Also, the police have a central role in keeping all of us safe, so a positive involvement from them would go a very long way in meaning something to people – especially when it is one of the Met’s own who has been arrested for this terrible crime.

What happens if the police decide against supporting the vigil? It will mean that women will be silenced, and no-one will be allowed to assemble to assert women’s rights.

Just like no-one will be allowed to protest or demonstrate against anything on this increasingly divided island if these new laws are allowed to stand. We are told that the rules are only needed whilst Covid is still here. But what happens if Covid, or, more precisely, the risk of Covid, never goes?

~ L&A 12.3.21 ~

***UPDATE 13.3.21***

The vigil had been cancelled. The organisers instead are proposing to raise £320,000 – equal to the amount of fines they were threatened with by the Metropolitan Police.

It is a shameful day; one that highlights the division between ordinary people and those in power.

Was a peaceful, socially distanced vigil really too much to ask for?

~ L&A 13.3.21 ~

3 thoughts on “No Protests, No Demonstrations. No Safety, No Voice

  1. These are worrying and frightening times; and it seems to me that plague island inhabitants are sleep walking through time; not just covid but life itself.


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