A year on from the death of Sarah Everard – has anything changed?
On Thursday 3rd March, Parliament Square looks exactly how you’d expect it to. Tourists clicking cameras, men in suits huffing past with a coffee cup in hand and an undeniably grey London sky overhead. But Thursday 3rd March marks a year to the day that police officer, Wayne Couzens, murdered young marketing executive Sarah Everard.
The week following her death, a vigil was held for her at Clapham Common, the sight of her murder. People came together to honour her life and mourn the death of a woman who was killed by a man she should have been able to trust. Now famous images from this vigil show not peaceful acts of unity but instead violent acts of brutality by the metropolitan police against the public.
Over the past year, the Met has come under fire after several incidents revealed a dangerous level of racist, misogynistic and homophobic misconduct. Furthermore, following the aggressive arrests at Sarah Everard’s vigil, many felt the police were a threat to their civil liberties. New changes to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill were also proposed that week, adding to a building culture of contempt and anger for the UK criminal justice system.
21-year-old Bethan tells me that on another Thursday afternoon 12 months ago, Parliament Square was a very different sight. A series of protests were taking place across the country, with police violence being the dominant theme throughout. “Even at the first protest I went to, there were more (police) than I’ve ever seen at a protest before,” Bethan notes. “The reason I went, in all honesty, is because I was worried” she tells me. Bethan’s thinking is akin to that of much of her generation. Coming into adolescence at the dawn of Brexit and online social justice, Gen Z have a unique attitude towards taking action and bringing about change. She says that, “It’s such a worrying idea that the police could have so much over people”. Despite these sentiments being shared by many in March 2021, there has been little to no change in the year since.
With a year to reflect on such a momentous time for women’s safety, there is lots to talk about, especially in the behaviour of people such as the then Head of the Metropolitan police, Cressida Dick. It seems as though city-wide contempt for her and her incompetence is one of the few progressions made in the past 12 months, resulting in her resignation last month.
If the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is passed it would ban marches and protests. This is not entirely a surprise as Home Secretary, Priti Patel, describes these protests as “seriously disruptive”. What Patel fails to realise is that is entirely the point.
Although this bill still represents a threat to human rights in the UK, these changes are taking their time, especially with mass opposition from protesters and over 350 UK charities.
The fight for female liberation, however, is far from stagnant. The original organisers of Sarah Everard’s Clapham common vigil, Reclaim These Streets, have not stopped fighting for change. They have been in discussions with both The Met police and the Mayor of London about women’s safety rights, which co-founder Jaime Klingler called “two very separate meetings”.
Jamie told me that she left her meeting with Sadiq Kahn feeling positive. “One of the things he said was that we had a very unique responsibility because for once in fifty years we’ve got the government, the media and the public behind you”. From this meeting, there were some encouraging results. Elements of Reclaim These Street’s wish list even ended up in the labour party manifesto.
Jamie tells me about her interactions with Jane Connors and Cressida Dick, the former of whom “spoke to us like we were idiots.”. If the name rings a bell, this would be because Connors is now in charge of investigating ‘partygate’, the series of lockdown parties held by government an Coservative Party staff. An ironic twist.
Currently, Reclaim These Streets are in the process of challenging the criminalisation of their Vigil. Despite having some of the top human rights lawyers in the country on their team, they are still “being treated as naïve young women.”
Jamie is one of many working hard to ensure the next 12 months are more promising for criminal justice than the last. When discussing Cressida Dick’s replacement, Jamies hoped they utilise Reclaim These Streets, “I hope that they use the experts.” It is clear the solution as well as the cause of this issue is institutional. A lot of both hope and pressure lies in whoever succeeds Dick as Head of the Met police. For whoever this will be, Jamie says that “I don’t want to be on the news complaining, I want a visionary.”