UK: Are police and politicians failing women?

 

UK: Are police and politicians failing women?

Hundreds of women gathered with candles and flowers in a south London park last week to protest the murder of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive who was snatched off a street while walking home at night from a friend’s house. A serving Metropolitan police officer has been charged with Everard’s kidnapping and murder, said Shami Chakrabarti in The Guardian, so you might have expected the force to take a hands-off approach to the vigil. Instead, the Met forcefully broke up the crowd of mourners, hurling women to the ground, kneeling on their backs, and handcuffing them. It’s true that under the coronavirus lockdown, protests are banned, but “the organizers of the Reclaim These Streets vigil acted impeccably,” offering to work with police to ensure that the planned vigil was socially distanced. In a “catastrophic misjudgment,” the higherups refused and Reclaim canceled the event, but grieving and outraged women showed up anyway. Now Met Commissioner Cressida Dick is rightfully facing calls to resign. While vigil organizers say they don’t want the force’s first female top cop to step down, Dick has been a leading voice in calling for “greater police powers to curb peaceful dissent.”

Don’t blame the police, said The Daily Telegraph in an editorial. They had no choice but to enforce the lockdown law that was hastily rammed through by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government. Forces across the U.K. were criticized last year for allowing Black Lives Matter marches to go ahead despite the pandemic, so the latest legislation explicitly included a protest ban. “Some form of heavy-handedness” was to be expected. Yet police did not arrest Prince William’s wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, when she went to the park to lay flowers for Everard, said Rachel Cunliff in NewStatesman .com. It was only later that the Met decided a stream of mourners had become a protest that needed to be violently put down. Clearly, officers can’t be trusted to decide what is or isn’t a lawful gathering, yet a new crime bill in Parliament would give them “sweeping new powers” to break up “disruptive” demonstrations. Since protests are inherently disruptive, the bill would effectively allow police to pick and choose which ones to shut down.

That new bill “does more to protect statues than women,” said Rachel Sylvester in The Times. Vandals who damage war memorials would get up to 10 years in prison, “double the five-year sentence given last month to a man who strangled his wife to death.” The bill also lets police download victims’ cellphone data, which will discourage rape victims from coming forward lest their sexual history be used against them. Already, thousands of rapists go free each year: Out of 55,130 rape cases in England and Wales last year, there were only 2,102 prosecutions and 1,439 convictions. Where are the policies to make prosecution of rape easier? Why not make street harassment a crime? Lawmakers should scrap their bill and start over—this time with Sarah Everard in mind.

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