LONDON – Clashes between London Metropolitan Police officers and crowds at a vigil for a woman killed have led to widespread criticism of the violence from activists and politicians from across the spectrum.
Hundreds of people gathered in a park in south London on Saturday to commemorate 33-year-old Sarah Everard, whose disappearance and death has gripped the nation and sparked a national conversation about violence against women.
Wayne Couzens, an elite officer in the London Metropolitan Police Diplomatic Protection Command, was charged with her murder on Friday.
On Saturday, women’s rights group Reclaim the Streets organized a vigil, but it was later canceled when a judge refused to intervene in a legal challenge to their right of assembly amid coronavirus restrictions. Currently in the UK only two people from different households are allowed to meet in a public space while bars, restaurants and most shops remain closed.
However, hundreds of people showed up in the park. Many brought flowers and some held signs that read, “She was just going home.” Among them was Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.
As the sunlight faded, the previously peaceful mood turned and police officers grabbed several women in the crowd, dragged them away, and puffed them up.
Some in the crowd booed, taunted and shouted “Shame on you” police officers patrolling the event, and a small minority of people started singing, shoving and throwing objects, said Helen Ball, deputy commissioner of the city police , in a statement early Sunday.
Four people were arrested, she said.
“We absolutely didn’t want to be in a position where enforcement action was required,” added Ball. “But we were put in this position because the primary concern is to protect people’s safety.”
However, the actions of the police were widely criticized.
London Labor Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Twitter that while officials were responsible for enforcing Covid-19 restrictions at the rally, their response was “at times neither appropriate nor proportionate.”
UK Conservative Home Secretary Priti Patel called the scenes “disturbing” and said in a statement that she had requested one Complete report on what happened from the force.
Oppositional Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey shared Ball’s comments on Twitter unmusical. “Doubling up” is not the right answer, he said.
Reclaim the Streets said in a statement that they were “deeply saddened and upset” by the police reaction, adding that the force should have understood that women needed a place to think, show solidarity and around Mourn Everard’s death.
The marketing manager disappeared on March 3rd after walking home from a friend. Her body was found hidden in a wooded area in Kent, more than 50 miles southeast of London, on Wednesday.
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Her disappearance has sent shock waves across the nation, and thousands of women have reached out on social media to discuss harassment, security issues, and the criminal justice system’s failure to prosecute crimes against women.
ON current report Women in the United States, a body for gender equality and the empowerment of women, showed that more than 70 percent of women of all ages in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public places.
Everard’s case has resonated with women around the world because what happened to her was the worst scenario, Reclaim These Streets’ Jamie Klingler told NBC News on Saturday.
“There is an absolute fear that you will do everything right and still end up in the worst situation because a man used this violence on you,” she added.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
Molly Hunter contributed.