British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s response to the national outcry over the death of Sarah Everard, who was allegedly killed by a police officer? More police.
At a Monday evening meeting with the government’s crime and justice task force, Johnson agreed to a series of supposed safety initiatives, one of which involves both uniformed and plain-clothes police officers patrolling bars and clubs to “protect” women from sexual harassment and assault.
“We must do everything we can to ensure our streets are safe, and we are bringing in landmark legislation to toughen sentences and put more police on the streets,” Johnson said when the meeting concluded. “We must drive out violence against women and girls and make every part of the criminal justice system work to better protect and defend them.”
It is an upsetting response to the events of the last two weeks; as a proposed solution it seems to have no connected to them at all. The demonstrations that have taken place in the aftermath of Everard’s death have been inflected with criticism from the police, who tried to stop the them from happening at all. Ahead of Saturday’s vigil, a court ruling banned people from gathering en masse, deeming it a violation of the UK’s covid restrictions. When they did anyway police reportedly kettled the vigil’s attendees, threatening them with fines and arrest. Their escalation resulted in four arrests, as well as viral images of women being grabbed by police and pinned to the ground which led to calls for an investigation into the department’s tactics.
A police bill currently up for debate in Parliament has also become a focal point of the Everard demonstrations, since the legislation would empower law enforcement to further restrict protests and demonstrations.
To observe these events and argue for more policing seems objectively untenable. Yet there may be a group of people for whom Johnson’s new police initiative is not entirely unwelcome. One response to Everard’s death has been to decry “male violence,” the assumption being that it is separate and distinct from state violence. Some women have used the circumstances of her murder—Everard disappeared while walking home from a friend’s house one night—to talk about the times they’ve been held their keys between their knuckles, worrying that a man would grab them on a dark street. This ignores the fact that the man who grabbed Everard is suspected to be not just any man, but a police officer.
While some women who have not been socialized to fear the police (or have not themselves been given a reason to yet) may instinctively feel that police will protect them from being harassed or assaulted, this sense of security is an illusion.
A woman who attended Saturday’s vigil said she was flashed by a man on her way home. When she reported the incident to police, she said she was “told essentially to go away.”
“How many times need we say it?” Sisters Uncut, a feminist group for victims of domestic violence, wrote on Twitter on Monday. “The police do not keep us safe.”