I don’t think I’ll be the only woman who’ll be crying herself to sleep tonight. Lord knows, there has been enough to cry about in the past few years and especially the pandemic months; yet, somehow, tonight’s appalling scenes were the last straw. What have we come to?
They were women with flowers and candles and a deep, shared sorrow. They sought reassurance from each other. They needed reassurance that, despite what happened to poor Sarah Everard, the police could be trusted, could be turned to in an hour of need. These women were never going to make trouble. They were masked. Socially-distanced. Responsible. Respectful.
The police could have turned women away, kindly and tactfully. They could have had a minimal presence. They could have stood with the women and shared their grief. They could have made some gesture of atonement that said “We see you. We hear you. We apologise that one of our own appears to have failed you. He does not represent us. We are not like him.”
Instead. Well. You know what they did instead.
And I am ashamed. Ashamed, because I should have felt this despairing after the Black Lives Matter protests. We all should. If I am honest, it has really hit home now because of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that comes before parliament on Monday, to be voted on on Tuesday. I wrote a piece on the right to peaceful protest earlier in the week and quoted the Netpol report into the aggressive policing at the BLM protests. I hope readers were outraged by the findings. I doubt anyone will question their veracity after the ugliness we’ve just seen.
For many of us, secure in our white privilege, we had to have this monstrous bill and this latest manifestation of the Home Office’s hostile environment right in front of us to really begin to appreciate what the BLM protestors have experienced. To appreciate it and recognise that it could be coming for any group who grieve or dissent and want to express that grief or dissent through peaceful protest.
One day it could be you or me with a knee on our backs pinning us down and cuffs bruising our wrists for nothing more than bearing witness to injustice or calling out corruption or mourning stolen life. If we turn away and try to ignore or hide from this assault on our precious, hard-won rights then, truly, we will have surrendered our freedom to those who abuse their power.
So, please, please email your MP. Ask them to do the right thing and vote against Patel’s bill. For all our sakes.