Extending Police Powers Cannot & Will Not End Male Violence

Photo by Ray Tang/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

On the evening of Saturday 13th March, hundreds gathered on Clapham Common to mourn and express our collective rage at the killing of yet another woman at the hands of a man. As night began to fall, police officers turned violent, unprovokedly pushing and arresting women and gender non-conforming people in attendance.
Less than 24 hours later we – the feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut – and a number of other groups called for people to come to Scotland Yard to protest the police's violent behaviour. Thousands came, appalled by the scenes of the night before. A one-minute silence was held for Sarah Everard. Then the crowds moved towards Parliament Square, where speakers called for an end to state violence. They also raised alarm about a piece of legislation currently being rushed through parliament: the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which seeks to make this type of protest illegal. It passed its second reading in the House of Commons this week.
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The powers introduced by this bill, now nicknamed the 'Police Crackdown Bill', are terrifying. It will give police more power to digitally strip-search survivors of gendered violence who report to the police. It will give police more powers to enact sweeping new stop and search powers, to increase surveillance and to criminalise Gypsy and Traveller communities.
Most horrifyingly, it will give police more power to decide where, when and how citizens are allowed to protest systemic violence. As the events of Saturday night show us, the right to protest safely without violence from the police is essential. 
Evidence and lived experience tell us that any increase in police power, whether it's undercover officers in bars and clubs or the current Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, will lead to an increase in state violence, especially for those who are already marginalised. As the Good Night Out campaign noted today: "We’ve trained thousands of venue and bar staff to understand and respond to sexual harassment and not a single one has ever said 'You know what would really help us feel safer? Undercover police in our workplace.'"
Only yesterday it was reported that police failed to help a woman flashed on the way home from Saturday's vigil, a mum was threatened with social service action for attending a vigil in Liverpool, and a Metropolitan Police officer involved in the Sarah Everard case has been removed from duty after sending offensive messages. All of this is happening in light of the fact that Sarah's alleged killer is a police officer himself.
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On top of all this, there is already an ongoing inquiry into the ways in which undercover police have abused their positions by having sex with women activists under their surveillance in what has been described as a co-ordinated "conspiracy to rape". We see the police as institutionally violent against women, and fear more powers will mean more impunity.
With all this in mind, it is clear that the death of Sarah Everard must be seen in context of the structures of violence against women in this country. These include the police who brutally manhandled grieving women on Saturday, the members of the police who last summer took photos of the dead bodies of two Black women, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, and the routine failures of the police to investigate rape cases as well as their own record of domestic abuse against women.
We must protest these structures if we want real change. The rights we have now – the right to abortion, the right to education, the right to vote and to love whomever we want – have all been won through protest. We have to question where we will be if our ability to protest is taken away. And there is still so much more we need to protest.

The death of Sarah Everard must be seen in context of the structures of violence against women in this country.

So what do we do now?
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will now move through a committee, where MPs may make amendments to or lose certain parts of it, and finally into the House of Lords where it will be passed into law. We must fight this bill at every stage because our lives depend on it. We have to push the government to back down and we can only do this through mass mobilisation. This piece of legislation will put a wrecking ball through our democratic right to stand up to injustice and will affect all of us in different ways. We all need to stand up to it.

At the moment there is a huge amount of discourse swirling around whether Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick should resign over the police violence against women attending the Clapham vigil. This narrative is a distraction. Cressida Dick represents a particular type of authoritarian policing – which we can see most recently in the actions of the police under her orders this weekend and as far back as 2005, when she headed the operation which led to the fatal point-blank shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes – but if she steps down, someone else just like her will simply step in. Although her resignation is essential, we also have to challenge the police's violence which is deeply, institutionally entrenched.
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It is our feeling that we cannot trust the police to keep us safe. And we need to challenge this in every single possible way. We need investment in life-saving community groups which can support survivors to heal and can truly hold harm-doers to account. We need universal access to a benefits system that treats people with respect, a real living wage, better access to contraception and abortion, and improved health and social care provision across the board.
We need system-wide change and a halt to expanding police powers such as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which we know will only increase violence towards women and gender non-conforming people, and will strangle our right to speak out against this injustice too.
In the wake of Sarah's killing, women are asking for change. They are asking for systems which can support them to obtain the justice they need and deserve, for male violence to be de-rooted once and for all, and for in-school teaching on what beautiful, safe relationships can and should look like. We are asking that those who are violent towards women be accountable for what they have done. Instead, we have been given undercover police officers in bars and nightclubs. The government is not listening.

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