Where Was The Outrage At Police Violence Last Summer?

The disappearance of Sarah Everard, followed by the discovery of her body last week, shocked the nation. An outpouring of grief, loss and sympathy gave way to a national reckoning about women's safety. Although Reclaim These Streets cancelled a planned vigil for Sarah on Saturday evening, hundreds of women still set out for Clapham Common to pay their respects and lay flowers. You know what happened next because you've seen the pictures.
What started as a peaceful coming together to pay homage to a woman who could have been our sister, daughter, friend – even ourselves – ended with police violence, arrests and an argument over the role of the authorities in dispersing crowds.
Videos from the vigil show Metropolitan Police officers manhandling young women, pushing them aggressively and pinning them on the ground. It was chaos. By Sunday, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick was facing calls to resign.
Condemnation of the police's actions from powerful figures came thick and fast. Priti Patel called the footage "upsetting" while Boris Johnson said he was "deeply concerned" at the scenes.
This level of outrage is in stark contrast to the police violence at the Black Lives Matter protests last year. While Johnson had a sympathetic response to Saturday's events, last June he said that the anti-racism protests, in which protesters were kettled for six hours and subjected to police aggression, were "subverted by thuggery". At the virtual Conservative Party Conference in October, Patel condemned the "hooliganism and thuggery", saying it was "indefensible".
There were no calls then for Cressida Dick to resign, nor were there demands for a public inquiry. Yes, it is appalling that the women on Saturday had gathered because of male violence and were then treated violently by men. But weren't the BLM protests about – among other things – police violence before the police became, well, violent? Why were BLM protestors not offered the same sympathy?
The public outcry surrounding the scenes on Saturday is important. But police brutality in the UK is not new. The Metropolitan Police is four times more likely to use force against Black people than against white people. Black people are more than eight times more likely to be stopped and searched by police across the country, Black people in London were twice as likely to be fined for lockdown breaches, and Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are twice as likely to die after police restraint is used.
At a time when a new bill is set to give new powers to police to control protests and impose sentences for rule-breakers, we must stand firmly together not only to fight for our right to protest but to make clear that police violence is never acceptable. Even if Boris Johnson et al might think otherwise.

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