On Wednesday 29th September 2021, five months after Wayne Couzens murdered Sarah Everard, Sisters Uncut gathered outside the Old Bailey where he was being sentenced. We are a direct feminist action group which campaigns for domestic violence services. Earlier this year, we led protests against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which took place in the wake of news of Sarah's death.
While outside the court, we learned that Couzens used the powers, training and weapons available to him as a police officer to arrest, abduct, rape and murder her. We gathered because we know that these are harrowing details of a police murder but not a rare occurrence: one woman a week reports a serving police officer for domestic or sexual violence.
We now know that Sarah was arrested by Couzens under Coronavirus Legislation, introduced during the pandemic, which gave police officers increased powers to stop and question anyone outside their home. This same legislation was used days later by the Metropolitan Police in an attempt to stop the vigil organised for Sarah’s death. The effects were not just dangerous for women: expanded police powers led to 22,000 searches of Black men in London alone, with 80% leading to no further action, and an official review found that every single prosecution using Coronavirus Legislation was wrongful.
This is why we, Sisters Uncut, are announcing a series of training sessions on police intervention, and the launch of a nationwide network of CopWatch patrols. Women and all those from marginalised communities must stand together to protect ourselves from police violence and all forms of gendered violence. When we heard that there were witnesses to Sarah’s kidnapping, we couldn’t help but wonder: what might have happened if someone had intervened?
We remember Sarah by fighting to make sure that what happened to her never happens again. Justice takes all of us to build it.
In our view, it is no surprise that more police powers would lead to this. Black people already are nine times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched in England and Wales and there have been over 1,700 deaths in police and state custody since 1990. Research from the US shows that police officers are 15% more likely than the general public to perpetrate domestic violence, with 40% of police officer families experiencing domestic violence. These statistics show that the police, as an institution, perpetrate all kinds of violence in all kinds of communities. Coronavirus Legislation led to racial profiling and harassment at its best and murder at its worst. It is our firm belief that increased police powers will always mean more violence.
We also believe that no police officer ever works alone. They are aided by their badge, by their uniform and by the violence they are trained to enact. They are aided by other police officers who watch as they kill, like the officers who stood by as Christopher Alder died face-down on a police station floor. They are aided by the Police Federation and PR team that tries to brush any instance of police violence under the carpet. They are aided by the ranks that close as soon as an instance of police violence does reach the public eye. Evidence suddenly disappears, footage isn’t found, responsibility cannot be taken. They are aided by policy makers and campaigns that ask for more police, better weapons, more body cameras – none of which attacks the root of the problem: that the police as an institution has always been rotten. By design, the only tool available to the police is violence. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
When is the time where we connect all the evidence that the police do not protect us and say "enough"? We believe that time is now.
In recent years, we have seen an increase in legislation that increases the power of police. The Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill, passed in 2020, allows officers to deceive women into sexual relationships, essentially legalising rape. The proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will allow police to stop and search individuals without any suspicion, digitally strip-search survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and further criminalise the Gypsy Roma Traveller community. But we can and must resist this.
The movement that came together under the banner of Kill the Bill in March after the violent shutdown of Sarah Everard’s vigil by the police knows that what we have to do in instances of police violence is stand together. We can’t throw anyone under the bus because there are so many of us who are under siege by the state.
And so we remember Sarah by fighting to make sure that what happened to her never happens again. Justice takes all of us to build it. You can sign up for our workshops here.
Sisters Uncut is an abolitionist direct action group protesting cuts to domestic violence services. The group was formed by domestic violence survivors and sector workers in 2014 to defend domestic violence services from austerity cuts and has blossomed into a mass movement across the UK, with groups in Doncaster, London, Newcastle, Bristol, Portsmouth and Birmingham.