MyLondon reporter Michele Theil has described how she and other women were pushed by police at the Sarah Everard vigil in Clapham Common last night.
The journalist said she saw no evidence of hostility towards the police which justified their ‘inappropriate and aggressive reaction’.
It comes after London Mayor Sadiq Khan demanded an investigation into police behaviour at the event, while some demanded the resignation of Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick.
The vigil was officially called off by organisers due to police concerns about coronavirus, however hundreds of people turned up in defiance.
Elsewhere in the country vigils in honour of Ms Everard, who was found dead this week, took place without any clashes.
Here is Michele Theil’s account of the Clapham Common vigil (which was originally published in MyLondon):
By now, we’ve all seen the footage from media outlets and individuals on social media depicting the harrowing scenes at the Sarah Everard vigil last night in Clapham Common.
They make for uncomfortable viewing, with many angry at the Metropolitan Police for failing to engage with the organisers of Reclaim These Streets and subsequently showing up with what I believe to be an inappropriate and aggressive reaction to those wanting to pay tribute to Sarah Everard and anyone who has been a victim of violence and harassment.
When I arrived at 5.45pm, the atmosphere was calm. I could see a throng of people gathered around the bandstand but strangers stood apart while those that came together were hugging and holding hands in solidarity.
Everyone wore a mask, myself included, and there was no outright expression of anger or violence, just sadness.
Reclaim These Streets organisers did not lead the vigil, following the cancellation of the official vigil on Saturday morning. Instead, an organisation called Sisters Uncut stood in the bandstand to speak to the crowd about violence against women and girls and the lack of faith many of us understandably have in the police to protect us.
Speeches, chants, and drums filled the air across the common as police got increasingly closer to the vigil.
By 7pm, the tide had changed. Police officers trampled over the flowers and tributes left to Sarah Everard to get onto the bandstand, trying to prevent the speeches from going ahead.
Attendees attempted to get onto the bandstand, not in an act of force but simply to show solidarity and to ask the police officers to leave and ‘let her speak’. I stood right at the edge of the bandstand, witnessing everything, and while everyone was angry, they did not direct their anger towards the police beyond telling them to ‘go home’.
Over the next hour, several women stayed on the bandstand, refusing to leave even as police officers threatened fines and arrests under coronavirus legislation. More and more police officers surrounded and essentially took over the bandstand, and this is when everything went haywire.
I witnessed several police officers pushing people, mostly women, away from the bandstand, even pushing them to the ground in one instance. I was pushed by a female police officer to leave the bandstand, almost tripping on the stairs and falling backwards as she towered over me and tried to get me to leave.
Later, as the police began arresting several women, the crowd were angry and asked for the arrested to be let go, even following the police all the way to the edge of the Common in order to persuade them to release the people they had in custody.
As I followed the crowd and the police to the main road, where their vans were parked, I was pushed over by a police officer who attempted to get me out of her way despite the fact we were stood at least two metres apart (per social distancing guidelines) and I was stood to her side – I have the mud stains to prove it.
We were all angry, and disappointed by what the vigil had turned into following the arrival of the police, but I myself saw no evidence of hostile behaviour towards the police. Sure, some people were shouting ‘f*ck the police’ but I don’t believe this in itself is grounds for the aggressive behaviour exhibited by the Met Police or for the arrests.
At around 8.30pm, after many of the officers had left to take those arrested into custody, I returned to the bandstand to find the peaceful vigil that I had seen before.
There were a few police officers scattered around but all they did was stand there, with the rest retreating elsewhere. It was once again calm, with many staying to do exactly what they had planned to: attend a vigil and pay tribute to Sarah Everard.
It is my belief that people wanted to pay tribute to Sarah Everard and to discuss the ways in which women can be safe, to ‘Reclaim the Streets’, and due to an outrightly hostile attitude from the Met Police, they were unable to do that.
After leaving the vigil, the adrenaline and anger coursed through me for hours afterwards, because it should never have had to come to that. I am disappointed in the Met Police, because their presence there was both unnecessary and damaging.
While I can’t predict what would have happened if they were not in attendance, I believe that we would have all gathered safely and peacefully to engage meaningfully with each other about the dangers we face as women, or as members of other marginalised groups, and share in the sadness we have felt this week.
Many of my friends were messaging me constantly, asking me to share my location, scared for my safety, after seeing this play out live on social media.
It’s incredibly ironic, and almost funny if it were not so awful, that my friends were fearing for my safety when that night was supposed to be about reclaiming the streets for women everywhere.
What happened last night, everything I witnessed, will stay with me for a long time.