Reclaim the night Reclaim the night, Photo: Paisley Scotland / Flickr / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY 2.0

The authorities are wrong to clamp down on public expressions of defiance following the killing of Sarah Everard, argues Alex Snowdon 

The ban on protests and vigils following the killing of Sarah Everard is outrageous. The abduction and killing of a 33-year-old woman in London is a crime that has generated anger and sorrow, but also a mood of defiance. It was confirmed on Friday evening that a serving police officer has been charged with her murder. 

The crime illustrates the far bigger problem of male violence towards women, including murder. As with last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests triggered by the police killing of George Floyd, this is a single outrage that symbolises a much larger social phenomenon. 

A collective response is both justified and inevitable. That includes protests. 

Protest vigils have a history. They have been organised in response to racist murders, mass killings and wars. They say two things simultaneously: we mourn and honour the dead, and we won’t tolerate this anymore. 

There is also a history of women taking to the streets to collectively lay claim to their right to feel safe – and be safe – in public. Reclaim the Night protests go back decades. They were originally fuelled partly by the Yorkshire Ripper’s killing spree against women and – just as importantly – the police’s deep institutional failures in that case and the exhortations to women to stay at home. 

The Reclaim These Streets protests, whether online or in public space, build on that tradition. But there is something especially powerful when they take place on the streets, making a strong statement simply by happening at all. They assert the message that stopping male violence is not women’s responsibility. Why should women by effectively put under curfew when they are not responsible for the violence and abuse? 

Friday’s court ruling – that Reclaim These Streets vigils, planned for many cities this weekend, are not exempt from coronavirus-related restrictions – is an affront to the right to protest. The plans are for socially distanced events in outdoor spaces. These deserve full support. 

This comes after the massive milestone of fully reopening all schools, putting ten million school children and staff back into situations involving close daily contact, on Monday. It is absurd to suggest that such a mass return to close contact can be permissible while distanced outdoor protests and vigils are illegitimate. 

This is a point made in a powerful statement issued on Friday night by members of the national executive of my union, the National Education Union. It concludes with these words:

Violence against women must never be swept under the carpet – our voices must be heard. We call on the police to allow the vigils to take place and call on NEU members to attend. 

This is a call that should be endorsed and amplified across the labour movement. Support the protests, defend our rights, defy the bans. 

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Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.​ He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).