TOAmid a national calculation on women’s safety, the government has shown it has little understanding of what actually makes women safe. In response to a protest following the abduction and death of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, No. 10 has announced new measures to protect women from sexual harassment and assault, including a proposal by Boris Johnson that Plainclothes police officers will patrol bars and clubs. at night to “identify predatory and suspected criminals.”
Few women have requested these measures, which seem strangely irrelevant to the subject at hand. Increasing the presence of undercover police officers in bars and clubs would have done nothing to prevent the conditions of Everard’s death as we currently understand them; his murder took place during a pandemic, he was not in a bar or a club, and the man charged in connection with his kidnapping and murder was not a civilian, but an active police officer. In light of all this, how could the presence of more police officers, invisibly woven into the fabric of women’s daily lives, possibly make us feel more secure?
Sisters Uncut, the feminist direct action group that has led a series of vigils for Everard, started a conversation last week about the ways the police aren’t keeping women safe. The police and the judicial system supposedly protect us from gender-based violence, but data from the Ministry of the Interior has shown that 98% of perpetrators reported rape are not prosecuted in England and Wales. On the way home from the vigil for Everard that took place Saturday night, an aide said police did not help her after she reported that she had been shot. Police were also slow to act last summer after the disappearance of black sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry (her mother said she felt this was due to racial stereotypes). After Smallman’s boyfriend discovered the remains of the two women, some police officers allegedly took selfies with their bodies and shared them in a WhatsApp group chat.
A 2019 Observer investigation showed that nearly 1,500 allegations of sexual misconduct were made against police officers over the course of six years, but only 13% resulted in firing or resignation. In one case, a rape survivor said that an officer working on her case “took advantage of her vulnerability and had sex with her twice.” This is only more concerning in light of the “spy cops” scandal, in which undercover agents were known to have sex, relationships and children with women who had no idea of their true identities. Of the most recent government proposals, many women will wonder: who will protect us from the police in plain clothes?
For marginalized communities, the idea of increasing the police presence in bars and clubs carries a particular historical weight. In 1969, the New York Police Department carried out a routine raid on a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, resulting in a seismic riot that inspired the first Pride parade; even now it is considered a global symbol of queer resistance. Raids on gay clubs are also part of history on this side of the Atlantic, with famous officers arresting 11 people at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London in 1987.
During this period, police were known to catch gay men or make arrests taking advantage of the legally ambiguous status of amyl nitrite (or “poppers”), a queer party drug. Nightlife surveillance has also disproportionately targeted black communities, with plainclothes raids dating back to Soho’s. Shim Sham club in the 30s and 40s. Police continued to raid the establishments and parties of Windrush’s descendants throughout the 1970s and 1980s, at a time when brutality was even more prevalent.
This does not suggest that the near future will look the same as recent history. But there are important connections between the past and the present. In England and Wales, black people are nine times more likely to be arrested and searched than their white counterparts, and five times more likely to have force used against them. Police officers who lied about knocking 19-year-old student Julian Cole to the ground outside a nightclub, leaving him partially paralyzed and with brain damage for life, have yet to face criminal charges.
As it currently exists, club security is not free from issues of sexism, racism, and homophobia. Still, for many women and marginalized people, nightlife can offer a square meter of freedom in the dark, a place to express their gender or sexuality without fear of judgment or violence. In particular, “Safe space” Clubs and parties can serve as hiding places to briefly escape the bullying that many of us experience in the world. They often have their own community policies to address sexual violence which, along with the success of initiatives such as Good night out, a campaign for safer nightlife, show how community empowerment interventions can truly make clubs safer for everyone.
Like uncut sisters wrote on Wednesday: “Any increase in police power, whether it be undercover agents in bars and clubs or the current police, crime, sentencing and court law, will lead to an increase in state violence, especially for those who are already marginalized.” Placing more undercover cops in nightclubs and bars is a timely symbol of the progressive encroachment of policing and surveillance into our everyday lives, often under the guidance of “security.” However, rather than making women more confident, it seems likely that this will do the opposite.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism