Reports from the Everard and Policing Bill protests

Including reports from correspondents on the ground, Freedom rounds up five days of women standing against male violence and police impunity – even as the Tories rush through draconian new powers cracking down on our right to demonstrate. The second reading of the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill passed on Tuesday evening. There article has a content note for discussions of incidents of self harm and gendered and state violence.

Saturday March 13th: Vigil for Sarah Everard

Initially publicised by Reclaim These Streets, the intended London vigil for Sarah Everard was called at Clapham Common bandstand after it emerged that a serving Metropolitan police officer had been charged with her kidnapping and murder. With police intransigent over permissions for the static event however, and threatening organisers with fines of £10,000, it was called off late in the day, essentially banned by the Met police along with other events in Edinburgh and Cardiff. 

People turned out regardless, both in London and in a number of other cities including Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Nottingham and Sheffield, showing up to take part in the vigil after dark at 6pm. Hundreds of people stood to mark the memorial in Clapham, leaving flowers at the bandstand, and raising a small sea of lights from phones, almost everyone wearing a mask.

Despite the clearly peaceful nature of the vigil, police arrived with a heavy presence, including helicopter surveillance, and took up position around the bandstand. At around 7pm they moved in mob-handed, ostensibly to stop the crowd from pressing too close to the bandstand, but instead adding their own bodies to the crush, trampling the flowers that had been left in tribute, then bullying and forcibly restraining women. A few people refused to leave, with officers flooding in and violence rising. Officers pushed and wrestled women away and to the ground.

There were four arrests on the night for public order offences and Covid breaches. One was Patsy Stevenson, handed a £200 Covid fine, who was photographed after being slammed to the ground by cops. After 8pm the police force retreated, leaving the vigil peaceful once more. 

There was immediate outrage on social media and the mainstream press, and while senior officers said they were doing their best at an outdoor gathering that was “unsafe” their actions were heavily criticised even by MPs and high profile Tories like Andrew Neil. Calls for Cressida Dick’s resignation were rejected by the Met chief. 

March 14th: Confronting Scotland Yard 

The next evening saw an uptick in attendance, with more than 1,000 people turning out for a rally outside New Scotland Yard on Victoria Embankment. The following is from a Freedom correspondent.

While everybody is criticising the police, quite rightly, nobody is saying how amazing and inspiring these protests really are. Women-led, very radical, strong participation by Black women and ethnic minorities, men are welcome and numerous, there are adults of all ages. It is very friendly and inclusive but the most numerous are very young women in their teens and early 20s. The rage, sadness, hope and love are overwhelming, and the solidarity. “The sisters united will never be defeated.” 

The crowd was very mobile and energetic. It’s like a movement of movements, so many friends and familiar faces, so many new ones. It gives me hope in a really dark moment.

The police were unusually quiet, still reeling from the embarrassment of the day before and their appalling handling of the vigil for Sarah Everard in Clapham Common. Marching around, there was a gathering in Parliament Square with inspiring speeches from women. It ended up with a very long vigil in front of New Scotland Yard, cordoned up by police in passive defence. 

Chants of “ACAB,” “Defund the police,” “Whose streets? Our streets!” A group of sympathetic men calling for the return of the matriarchy, young women angry as hell at the male violence and police institutional misogyny, cops openly accused of aiding and hiding the abuse of women and children, down with the patriarchy, a small sound system making music, some smell of marhjuana in the air, someone brought a megaphone, more inspiring speeches, everybody could talk. 

Then a woman self-harmed and was restrained by five male officers, causing general indignation. When two female ambulance crew arrived to look after her, everything calmed down. The injured woman looked quite happy when she entered the ambulance, maybe she had made her point. People began to disperse but took their time, chatting and socialising in front of New Scotland Yard til late, some got quite drunk and sadly a full bottle of wine fell and broke near a police van. There were eventually four arrests on the day.

March 15th: Parliament Square Against the policing Bill

The hands-off approach of the police only lasted until they figured they were a little ahead of the unflattering public spotlight, and Monday saw another three arrests on Covid regulations at protests around Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square and the West End. Two people were imprisoned and later released, while one was handed a fixed penalty notice. Two other people were given on-the-spot fines. The more serious accusation was linked to an arrest for “assaulting an emergency worker” – the modern euphemism for any confrontation with a police officer, deliberately made to sound vaguely like a paramedic or fire fighter was being targeted. A Freedom correspondent reported from the scene: 

People gathered in Parliament Square after callouts by XR and Sisters Uncut against the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, that if passed will take away the right to protest. There was a heavy police presence. 

After some hours and many speeches and chanting, the youth-led hardcore moved to occupy Westminster Bridge. From there they went to New Scotland Yard. Before the police could kettle them, the protesters moved back to Parliament, marched into Whitehall, with a quick stop at Number 10 with ritual singing of “Boris Johnson is a wanker,” then quickly to Trafalgar Square with the police on their tail and on towards Piccadilly Circus. But before getting there they turned, and went into the West End’s maze of small streets.

After quite a long cat and mouse game in the West End it was back towards Parliament, with more cops on their tail, past Whitehall where Parliament and Parliament Square were cordoned up by cops, effectively shut down by the police, back to Westminster Bridge where they did a brief die-in. Then they were up again and running before the cops could get them, past Waterloo station, St Georges Square, Elephant and Castle, a half-tour of the Elephant, and go-go-go until Vauxhall. I lost them before getting there – ran out of breath.

March 16th: Police go in on legal observers

Tuesday again saw hundreds of people gathered outside Parliament, moving towards New Scotland Yard while calling for an end to gender violence. Speakers talked about the police violence which took place at Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and on the Clapham Common incident, along with highlighting historic treatment of minority and oppressed groups. A Freedom correspondent notes:

The number of young women attending and speaking at the protests was so much higher than usual, the crowd was safe, friendly, considerate, and loud. Some people turned up with colleagues after work, some people had their kids with them, and the amount of placards made with cardboard boxes and marker pens added to the urgency of the gathering.

A ring of police guarded Winston Churchill’s statue the entire time, while protesters shouted “Kill the Bill” against the policing bill and “Sack Priti Patel!” 

Officers once again failed to cover themselves in glory however when, amid a flurry of eight arrests, they picked up at least two legal observers, including one from Black Protest Legal Support UK. Fixed penalty notices, now used as standard, were also handed out. In response to the arrests, groups such as Liberty and NetOkpol released highly critical statements. Netpol noted:

“We are deeply concerned about the arrest of independent legal observers at the protest against the government’s Police Crackdown Bill last night. Legal observers are not participants in protests, they are volunteers monitoring the way protests are policed.”

While the police showcased why they could not be trusted to correctly use the powers they already have, the Policing Bill passed late in the evening via a solid Tory voting bloc, and has now moved to committee stage.

Outside London, nother march in Manchester moved from St Peter’s Square through the city centre against “Priti’s Police State” and a third took place in Cardiff, which saw a sit-down protest and hundreds turning out.

March 17th: Calm before the weekend

Protests died down somewhat yesterday, though there were some smaller vigils and a crowd did turn out in Cardiff, outside the city’s main police station. However this didn’t stop the government from continuing its run of controversial activities, with Met Deputy Chief Stephen House attempting to suggest that informing people of their rights at all is suspicious behaviour.

House did find time to explain that telling people their rights indicated an “intention to demonstrate,” which therefore justified his force’s violent behaviour towards women placing flowers at Clapham Common bandstand, but has been too busy to show up to give evidence in the spycops inquiry about the behaviour of his officers. His point was rather undercut by the legal firm Hodge Jones and Allen, which thanked people for making sure the law is known and offered its own legal backgrounder on police kettling tactics.

The next major demonstration is likely to be this Saturday. Sister’s Uncut have organised an online public meeting tonight. Abolitionists Futures are organising a series of talks on aspects of the bill.