Thursday, December 9

After the Sarah Everard vigil scandal, who still thinks the police need additional powers? | UK News


TThe Peterloo massacre in 1819, the abuse of suffragettes in the early 20th century, the murder of Blair Peach in 1979, the recent “spy cops” scandal – there have been many dark moments in British history of surveillance and protest. To this long list must now be added the scandalous police response to a public vigil held on Clapham Common, south London, which marked the disappearance and death of Sarah Everard. That this brutal reaction to the women who gathered to remember Everard was presided over by the first commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and the fourth secretary of the Interior is a bitter feminist irony. It should be a reminder that we must change the way the system works, not just the faces that rule it.

The pandemic has created an opportunity to suppress peaceful protests. Under current social distancing laws, gatherings of more than two people are prohibited in most circumstances. But regardless of this legal framework, the Met is still bound by Human Rights Law, which stipulates that power must be exercised proportionally and only when necessary. The purpose of surveillance is not primarily law enforcement, much less brutality: it is keeping the peace. What happened on Saturday is now infamous, documented in widely shared images and videos of uniformed officers mistreating peaceful protesters with chants of “What a shame.”

Under the current closure rules, the organizers of the Reclaim These Streets vigil performed flawlessly. They offered to work with the police to ensure that the planned hour-long vigil was quiet and socially detached, completed with volunteer butlers so public safety could, for the most part, be self-controlled. Since a police officer has been charged in connection with the death of Sarah Everard, It was to be hoped that the Met had gratefully accepted this plan. In fact, this appears to be what happened at the municipality command level, before Scotland Yard intervened. This catastrophic error in judgment appears to have come from above, as Reclaim These Streets resorted to a request from a higher court to ensure that the vigil could continue (the judge recommended that organizers and police keep talking).

A leadership change at the top of the Met now seems inevitable. But politicians and commentators have equal food for thought. Women have frequently complained that the justice system does not take violence against them seriously, warning that the low levels of prosecutions for rape by the Crown Prosecutor’s Office effectively decriminalize one of the most serious crimes.

To be sure, much of this is due to austerity. But there is also the separate issue of public appearances. Although our elected representatives seem desperate to appear tough on law and order, this same concern does not seem to extend to women victims of crime. How else could politicians have voted in favor of the “spy cops” bill, which grants full immunity to undercover agents who commit crimes while infiltrating criminal gangs, despite the reality that many of the have victims of historical abuses been women?

Since the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests took place in April last year, Met Commissioner Cressida Dick has publicly called for greater police powers to curb peaceful dissent. When XR blocked access to three printers owned by Rupert Murdoch in September, accusing newspapers of failing to report on the climate crisis, many politicians and commentators clashed with each other to side with Murdoch for climate protesters. Those who didn’t mind standing up for protesters’ rights when they were deemed too green or too black have now woken up to find that a vigil for Sarah Everard has been interrupted with an insensitive police response.

And now, as if to crown this dystopian moment, Home Secretary Priti Patel will seek a second reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, which would give Dick more powers. Its content is dangerous and its timing is particularly tacky. The Labor Party has pledged to vote against the bill, which will stop protests if they “result in a serious disruption of the activities of an organization” or have a “significant impact on the surrounding people.” This is the very definition of a peaceful street demonstration. The bill’s explanatory notes, dealing with the powers of the police to deal with “non-violent protests,” are worryingly authoritarian: they criticize the current “loopholes” in the law and its limited focus on protests that are “violent. or distressing for the public ”.

Conservatives seem to have conveniently forgotten that free speech is a two-way street. It is not just for those who have the privilege of publishing weekly columns in British newspapers. The noisy protesters carrying banners are exercising this same right to freedom of expression. The events of Saturday made it clearer than ever that what is needed is not more police powers. There have been many dark days in our history of surveillance and protest. We owe it to Sarah Everard to wake up and turn on some lights.


www.theguardian.com

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