The murder of Sarah Everard: UK reeling after horrific crime and heavy-handed police response to vigil
London, UK - London's police has come under fire for how it brutally broke up a vigil for Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old woman whose murder has sparked a national and worldwide reckoning over violence against women.
Everard's body was found last week in the south-east English county of Kent, close to London, after she went missing on March 3. A 48-year-old police officer, Wayne Couzens, appeared in court on Saturday after being charged with kidnapping and killing Everard.
On Saturday, thousands of protesters came together for a vigil in tribute to Sarah Everard, in South London near where the woman was last seen, despite police warnings that the demonstration would be illegal because of coronavirus restrictions. Critics pointed to a court ruling that said police could not declare a blanket ban on protests.
While the activists peacefully rallied against gender violence, several women were forcefully arrested and handcuffed by the police. Footage of officers clashing with women emerging over the course of the weekend caused widespread outrage.
Among the four people arrested was a 28-year-old protester, Patsy Stevenson. Images of her pinned to the ground by several officers quickly went viral.
London's police under fire over heavy handling of vigil
In a statement, Helen Ball, an assistant commissioner for the London Metropolitan Police, said that officers on the ground were "faced with a difficult decision" Saturday night.
She added that when hundreds of people "packed tightly together," they posed "a very real risk of easily transmitting Covid-19."
The vigil was throughout the day attended by small groups, with people gathering in silence around a memorial. Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, was among those who placed flowers at the memorial.
But by dawn, the memorial had become a rally against gender violence, with thousands of people protesting at the vigil.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan (50) called the scenes from Clapham Common "unacceptable."
"The police have a responsibility to enforce Covid laws, but from images I've seen it's clear the response was at times neither appropriate nor proportionate," he tweeted Saturday night.
Duchess of Cambridge placed flowers at the memorial
Police's handling was "disgraceful"
Even Conservative politicians, including Home Secretary Priti Patel, were enraged over the police's force on Saturday. Patel called the response upsetting and unacceptable, and said she asked for a "full report" into it.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey (55), went so far to call on Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to resign, as he called the police's handling "disgraceful and disproportionate."
Mayor Khan said he met Sunday with Commissioner Dick, and her deputy, Stephen House, to demand an explanation.
"I am not satisfied with the explanation they have provided," he said.
Cover photo: collage IMAGO / ZUMA Wire, Metropolitan Police