What Are the ‘Kill the Bill’ Protests in Britain All About?

Kill the bill!

That has been the refrain echoing in streets across Britain in recent weeks as protesters demand a rethinking of a sweeping crime bill that would give the police more power to deal with nonviolent demonstrations.

In recent months, a series of issues have galvanized mass protests across Europe: Black Lives Matter demonstrations in cities last summer, protests against security laws across France last fall, and anti-lockdown rallies seemingly everywhere.

How the police should handle these mass demonstrations has become a topic of heated debate, especially as officers have been accused in some cases of over-aggressive responses. Coronavirus restrictions have added another layer to questions about the right balance between the rule of law and protecting civil liberties.

In Britain, that discussion has zeroed in on the new police bill.

The proposed legislation has come under intense criticism in recent weeks in the wake of the killing of Sarah Everard, a young woman who was murdered in London after walking home from a friend’s house in the evening, and a subsequent vigil to honor her that was broken up by the police.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill is an immense piece of proposed legislation that makes provisions for a broad range of issues in its nearly 300 pages. The bill would introduce harsher penalties for serious crimes, end a policy of early prison release for some offenders and prevent unauthorized encampments, among other sweeping measures.

It also gives broad authority to police forces across the country when it comes to handling protests — and that has proved to be a lightning rod.

Under current law, the police must first determine that a demonstration could result in serious public disorder, property damage or serious disruption to the life of the community before it can impose restrictions.

toppled in Bristol last year during a Black Lives Matter demonstration.

The government maintains that the bill provides for better policing and community protection. Priti Patel, the home secretary, said last week that there was “a balance to be struck between the rights of the protester and the rights of individuals to go about their daily lives.”

Opposition lawmakers and rights groups have denounced what they see as a move to give police overly broad, and potentially problematic, powers. Many say they need more time to work through the potential implications.

The Local Government Association, a cross-party organization, said that certain aspects of the bill, particularly those focused on public protests, “warrant further formal consultation.” The group expressed concerns that a rushed timetable to vote on the bill “left little time to scrutinize the bill in sufficient detail.”

The Good Law Project, a British governance watchdog, said in a briefing that the bill “represents a serious threat to the right to protest,” and called for the portions of the legislation that deal with protests to be dropped.

a national outcry over violence against women. Then came the day of the vigil.

Officers were widely criticized for breaking up the March 12 event, deemed illegal because of coronavirus restrictions. Images spread quickly showing the police moving in to halt speeches and arrest a group of women denouncing violence.

An independent investigation has been launched into conduct of the police, and the controversy raised questions about the ban on protests during the pandemic.

More broadly, the police’s heavy-handed response to the vigil catalyzed the movement against the policing bill, shifting the debate to one about police overreach. The vigil took place just days before the crime bill was set to be debated in Parliament.

The problem with the bill, critics say, is not just that it gives officers more power to tamp down demonstrations. The bill makes no specific mention of violence against women — indeed, it includes more language about how to criminalize the defacing a statute than it does about crimes against human being motivated by misogyny.

turned riotous in Bristol, where a small group set fire to police vehicles, smashed shop windows and clashed with officers. At least 20 police officers were injured, two seriously, and seven were arrests made, according to the police.

they argue, fails to address the pervasive misogyny at the heart of crimes committed against women, as well as undermining the right to protest.

As the dispute has heated up, some lawmakers are taking a new look the bill.

The Labour party had originally planned to abstain from voting on the bill, but shifted its position last week to instead vote against it. David Lammy, a Labour lawmaker who is the opposition party’s justice spokesman, called the legislation “a mess.”

“The tragic death of Sarah Everard has instigated a national demand for action to tackle violence against women,” Mr. Lammy said. “This is no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest.”

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After Sarah Everard’s Killing, Women’s Groups Want Change, Not More Policing

Late Thursday night, Sisters Uncut, a provocative feminist organization that has emerged as a leader of the most forceful protests in Britain’s growing national movement around women’s safety, declared a small victory.

“We’ve delayed the #PoliceCrackdownBill,” the group announced on Twitter. “This is a victory, but we will not stop.”

The announcement was just the latest evidence that this movement differs from past campaigns that opposed violence against women in general terms but that rarely made sweeping demands.

Women are furious not just about the death of Sarah Everard, 33, in London — a police officer has been charged in her kidnapping and killing — but about what they see as a heavy-handed and misogynist response from the police afterward. They are directing their anger at law enforcement and the justice system, and pushing to scrap a proposed police and crime bill, which would create sweeping new restrictions on protests and grant broad new powers to the police.

the arrest of a police officer over her killing, have led many to conclude that the police are an active threat. Women’s safety and freedom, they argue, can come only from much deeper social changes — and any policy change in response to Ms. Everard’s death should focus on those.

Margaret Atwood famously said that there was nothing in her novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” that did not happen to women somewhere, at some point in history. That is often treated as evidence of in-depth sourcing, but in fact it is the force behind the novel’s visceral central horror: that any protection women might think would be offered by democracy, education, wealth or race can all too easily disappear in an instant.

For many women in Britain, Ms. Everard’s killing and the police’s violent dispersal of a London vigil in her memory have triggered a similar horror, on a less dystopian scale, about how unprotected they truly are. It has become a moment, too, to reflect on the suffering of women of color, and other groups targeted for abuse, that has long been ignored.

promised new actions to improve women’s safety: more CCTV cameras, better street lighting, and plainclothes police in bars and clubs to watch for attacks on female patrons. And it campaigned for more support for the police and crime bill, which would grant sweeping new powers to police departments across the country.

All those responses seemed grounded in the theory that women felt unsafe because there were not enough police, with enough power, in enough places.

the police action in Clapham last weekend was against one protest. But statistics tell a story of many more widespread failures.

From 2019 to 2020, less than 3 percent of rapes reported to the police were prosecuted, according to government statistics. And if unreported cases are taken into account, the real prosecution rate is even lower.

“Rape has been decriminalized, frankly,” said Emily Gray, a lecturer at Derby University who studies policing.

A 2019 report by the British newspaper The Independent found that 568 London police officers were accused of sexual assault between 2012 and 2018, but only 43 faced disciplinary proceedings. And from April 2015 to April 2018, there were at least 700 reports of domestic violence by police officers and police staff, according to documents obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalists from 37 of Britain’s 48 police forces.

Opponents of the police and crime bill, which would grant the police wide-ranging power to shut down protests, argue that it would make scenes like the one on Clapham Common more frequent, and would not stop the most prevalent forms of violence against women.

“Violence against women usually comes from a power imbalance,” Dr. Gray said. One reason the police bill is being attacked, she said, is that “it doesn’t do anything about that at all.”

So what are the alternatives? Different groups tend to focus on different remedies.

Sisters Uncut, which was founded in 2014 in response to government austerity measures that slashed funding for women’s shelters and other help for women at risk, has long demanded that such services be reinstated.

Perpetrator programs, which work intensively with abusive men to prevent them from attacking their partners, have shown some promise in cases where the abusers are committed to change, said Dr. Westmarland, who has studied them.

“The physical and sexual abuse reduced quite substantially and in some cases was eliminated altogether,” she said. But she noted that the programs had not been effective at reducing coercive control — the domineering emotional abuse that is the hallmark of domestic violence and that is deeply traumatic in its own right.

One belief that cuts across nearly all the groups involved — including mainstream ones like the Women’s Institute, the largest women’s organization in the country — is that education must be a centerpiece of any change.

Such education could be “a real shot at prevention, and shaping some of the prevalent attitudes that greatly hurt girls and women, as well as nonbinary people, in our society,” said Kate Manne, a professor of philosophy at Cornell University and the author of two books on the ways sexism shapes society, said in an interview.

But while education might sound like the kind of anodyne concept that anyone could support, Dr. Manne said via text message that she believed it would actually be quietly radical for education to address the politically charged issues of misogyny, male privilege and male responsibility for ending male violence.

“Can you imagine if sex education became political?” she asked. “Sigh. It’s my dream, though.”

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Sarah Everard Death Set Off a Movement, but for Friends the Grief Is Personal

LONDON — Sarah Everard, like so many others, had a difficult year in 2020. A long-term relationship fell apart, and she lost her job when the company she worked for hit the rocks.

Still, she had stayed positive and active, throwing herself into online exercise classes and remaining a steadfast supporter to friends struggling through an equally arduous time. Lately, those friends said, things had been looking up, and she was eagerly anticipating post-pandemic life.

She was seeing someone new, and she was eager to travel again, to see family in York in northern England and to reconnect with friends. She had just started a new job.

So when Ms. Everard didn’t come home on March 3, a Wednesday night, they knew something was wrong. She had made a phone call to her new boyfriend as she walked from a friend’s house, and then she vanished. It was 9:30 p.m.

became a rallying cry for a broad movement to combat pervasive, longstanding violence against women in Britain — a symbol of all those of who have been attacked, so many of whose cases have gone largely unnoticed.

Amid the national attention, her friends and family have been left to privately mourn a woman, just 33, who had been taken far too soon. They described someone of warmth and empathy, always ready to listen to a friend’s troubles and offer support, a woman who also did not fully appreciate just how smart she was.

“She was sunshine and light, and made you feel warm and good and safe,” said Holly Morgan, who met Ms. Everard through work in London years ago. “I feel angry about it as well, but my main anger is that it happened to her.”

Credit…Metropolitan Police, via Associated Press

The news of Ms. Everard’s disappearance spread quickly online, first among friends and family — a network that stretched from her hometown near York to a web of friends from her college years and colleagues in London. They collectively worried about her, amplifying calls for information. Many desperately puzzled over how this could be happening to their Sarah.

wrote in a post last week, on International Women’s Day.

Then, as the news came that a police officer had been arrested in her death, the messages turned to memorials, and her story grew from personal pain to national reckoning. As flowers pile up at a bandstand in Clapham Common in south London, near where she disappeared, and protesters silently raise fists outside government buildings in remembrance of Ms. Everard, those closest to her are still trying to make sense of things.

For many, their friend’s transformation into a national symbol has complicated their own raw feelings of grief.

“In the uproar of what Sarah’s death is being taken to represent,” as one friend, India Rose, described it, she had struggled to find words to pay proper tribute to a woman she knew as “open, honest,” and “unflinching in her ability to listen and empathize.”

“We shared a lot, and I was never in any doubt of her discretion or sincerity in her support and kindness,” Ms. Rose said on Facebook.

where the staff remembered “how lovely she was to teach,” in a tribute posted over the weekend. Steve Lewis, the school’s head teacher, said her family and friends were a valued part of the community, and described Ms. Everard as bright, vibrant and caring.

“Her joy, intelligence and positive spirit shone within the school,” he said in a statement.

After graduating in 2005, Ms. Everard attended Durham University, where she studied geography. In a statement, Stuart Corbridge, the vice chancellor, said the community was devastated. Ms. Everard was a “popular and lively” student who retained a large group of friends after her graduation in 2008, he said.

spoke to the BBC when she first went missing, describing her as an “exceptional friend, dropping everything to be there to support her friends, whenever they need her.”

In a news release for a sports event she worked on in 2019, Ms. Everard said her organization was “determined to find as many opportunities during the event to tell the fantastic stories of pioneering women over the last century.”

On Ms. Everard’s Facebook page, photos offer glimpses of faraway travels and of London, the city she called home in recent years. In one picture were the tattered and windswept prayer flags of the Himalayas. In another was the unmistakable London skyline, the River Thames glistening in sunset. Images from an unfinished life.

She was an introvert who could still draw others close because of her rare skill for listening, but she could also be silly and irreverent, friends said. She was curious, active and adventurous, but also humble and private.

“There are those moments where it’s like love at first sight, but with a friend,” Ms. Morgan said of the first time she met Ms. Everard. “You meet a fellow woman and go, ‘I love you, and I don’t know you yet properly, but I know that I’m going to love you. And it was one of those things.”

described her on Facebook as a “smart, talented marketer” who got along with even the most difficult people she encountered.

“Sometimes you meet a person with a beautiful soul and it shines through,” she wrote.

Another former co-worker, Peter McCormack, shared a photo of a night out at an 1980s themed party with Ms. Everard. “Crap at karaoke, brilliant at everything else,” he wrote in the Facebook post.

“Our clients loved her, the team loved her, everyone loved Sarah,” he wrote. “For that moment she came into our lives, she made it better.”

Ms. Morgan said that it has been hard to comprehend the national uproar her friend’s death has caused, but the immediate outpouring of love had been heartwarming.

“Everyone has a Sarah in their life,” she said, describing the magnetism of women who are smart, determined and humble. “That’s why there’s been such an ongoing tide of pain and rage, because other people feel like they knew her, without knowing her at all.”

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Sarah Everard Vigil: Anger Churns Over Police Tactics at Gathering in London

After talks between the group running the vigil, Reclaim These Streets, and the police proved fruitless, the organizers went to the courts to try to win permission for the event.

When the High Court declined to intervene, Reclaim These Streets canceled the gathering. Nonetheless, crowds arrived at the park throughout the day, with visitors including Prince William’s wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, who was among many to lay flowers at a makeshift tribute around a bandstand.

A turning point appeared to come when people started to make speeches, prompting the police to move in and break up the gathering. Presumably, this was because the event was turning from a vigil, which the police seemed willing to tolerate, to a demonstration, which they were not.

Adam Wagner, a human rights lawyer who advised Reclaim These Streets, said, “The police created the situation that allowed it to become an unruly disorganized mess, and then felt they had to carry out enforcement.” He added that in failing to reach an agreement with the group to cooperate in organizing the event and in that way manage those who wanted to attend the vigil, the opportunity was lost to exclude others, such as anti-lockdown protesters.

In a statement on Tuesday, Reclaim These Streets said it had lost confidence in Ms. Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who the group said had granted them a meeting on Monday of just 15 minutes. “We pressed the commissioner for a clear answer on what an acceptable form of vigil would be under the legislation and she failed to provide an answer,” the statement noted, adding that the actions of the police “were putting the safety of women exercising their right to protest at risk.”

With no written constitution, rights to protest rely in Britain on a general human rights law and on an obligation on the police to use force proportionately. But critics of the coronavirus rules note that the speed with which the regulations were passed through Parliament has left a legal jumble.

Pippa Woodrow, another lawyer advising Reclaim These Streets, said, “A lack of clarity has been a real issue from the outset, and that might have been understandable at the beginning but we are now a year into this and our laws are still no better.” Having stopped some protests, the police seemed to feel that they would have looked inconsistent if they had let this vigil go ahead, she added.

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In Rage Over Sarah Everard Killing, ‘Women’s Bargain’ Is Put on Notice

Perhaps it was because pandemic lockdowns have left women clinging to whatever is left of their access to public space. Perhaps it was because after more than three years of the #MeToo movement, the police and society are still telling women to sacrifice their liberties to purchase a little temporary safety.

It all came to the surface when 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who disappeared as she walked home in London on March 3, was found dead a week later, after doing everything she was supposed to do. She took a longer route that was well-lit and populated. She wore bright clothes and shoes she could run in. She checked in with her boyfriend to let him know when she was leaving. But that was not enough to save her life.

So the response from British women to reports that the police were going door to door telling women in the South London neighborhood where she disappeared to stay inside for their own safety became an outpouring of rage and frustration.

@metpoliceuk really do want women off the streets don’t they?” Anne Lawtey, 64, wrote on Twitter after organizers announced the cancellation of the gathering. She was shocked, she said in a telephone interview, that it had been shut down. “We can’t have a vigil? People standing still, in a park, wearing masks?”

A huge crowd turned out anyway, carrying candles and bouquets, crocus bulbs in glass jars and flats of pansy seedlings to add to the pile of blooms.

With no audio equipment, women climbed on the Victorian bandstand that had become a makeshift memorial and used an Occupy Wall Street-style human microphone: The crowd repeated what was said so that it could be heard at the back.

working paper from Girija Borker, a researcher at the World Bank, found that women in India were willing to go to far worse colleges, and pay more tuition, in order to avoid harassment or abuse on their daily commutes to classes. The impact of that “choice” on one woman can be hard to measure — but among the thousands she documented in her research, it can be expected to have an effect on earnings, economic power and social mobility.

wrote on Twitter, adding, “4pm. New Scotland Yard.”

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Policing at Sarah Everard Vigil Faces Official Scrutiny

LONDON — The mayor of London and the British cabinet minister responsible for policing both called on Sunday for an independent investigation into how the city’s main police force broke up a vigil for Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old marketing executive whose killing has sparked a reckoning over violence against women, after images of officers clashing with women at the event prompted a widespread outcry.

The mayor, Sadiq Khan, said that “scenes arising from the policing of the vigil,” which had been banned under coronavirus restrictions, “were completely unacceptable,” and that he was “not satisfied” with explanations from the two top officers in the force, the Metropolitan Police.

A spokesman for the Home Office, the government department that oversees policing, confirmed on Sunday that Priti Patel, the home secretary, had asked the Inspectorate of Constabulary, a government body that assesses police forces, for a report into what happened at the vigil.

Mr. Khan said in a statement that he had sought a full inquiry from the same body, and that he was also asking another regulator, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, to investigate the actions of officers at the vigil.

a Metropolitan Police officer has been charged with kidnapping and murdering Ms. Everard, who disappeared while walking home from a friend’s house in Clapham on March 3.

Mr. Khan said that the police had assured him last week that the vigil would be policed sensitively, and that he had met on Sunday with the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, and her deputy, Stephen House, to demand an explanation. “I am not satisfied with the explanation they have provided,” he added.

In a statement overnight, Helen Ball, an assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, said that officers on the ground were “faced with a difficult decision” in the evening after hundreds of people “packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting Covid-19.”

“Police must act for people’s safety, this is the only responsible thing to do. The pandemic is not over and gatherings of people from right across London and beyond, are still not safe,” she said, adding, “We accept that the actions of our officers have been questioned.”

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Sarah Everard Vigil Becomes Large Rally

LONDON — Thousands of people gathered in south London on Saturday for a vigil in tribute to Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old marketing executive whose killing has touched off a national reckoning over violence against women, despite police warnings that the event would be unlawful.

As darkness fell, a growing crowd chanted “Shame on you!” and “How many more!” In what became a rally against gender violence, some clapped their hands and others held tea lights or signs that read “End Violence Against Women” and “She Was Only Walking Home.”

The event, in Clapham Common, near where Ms. Everard was last seen on March 3 on her way back from a friend’s house, had drawn small groups at first, with people gathering in silence around a memorial where flowers had been laid. Earlier, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was among those who placed flowers at the memorial.

Several women were arrested at the event and handcuffed by the police, according to videos shared on social media. Other protesters, some unmasked, engaged in tense faceoffs with the police.

plan to tackle violence against women and girls later this year. Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Friday that a call for testimony about harassment, which had received 15,000 contributions, would be extended for two weeks.

Lawmakers are also set to debate a bill on domestic abuse next week, with growing momentum across party lines to include an amendment treating misogyny as a hate crime.

Several lawmakers had supported the vigil’s going forward, despite the restrictions.

“Even in a pandemic a small, responsible, risk-assessed vigil could surely be accommodated?” Joanna Cherry, a lawmaker for the Scottish National Party, said on Twitter. “Women’s fear of the hate & violence against us needs expression.”

As an alternative to the vigil, organizers urged people to hold a light on their doorstep at 9.30 p.m. local time. Several officials, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said they would light a candle for Ms. Everard.

But the event in South London eventually turned into a large gathering, echoing an overall sentiment that flooded social media throughout the week: that women had had enough.

In a statement published hours before the rally took place, the organizers of Reclaim These Streets said, “We are clear that women’s voices will not be silenced, now or ever.”

Nailah Morgan and Christina Kelso contributed reporting from New York.

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Vigil for Sarah Everard Moves Ahead

The organizers of a vigil for a 33-year-old woman who went missing in London last week, and whose body was identified on Friday, said on Saturday that a gathering that was canceled due to Covid-19 restrictions would go ahead on Saturday, but virtually or on people’s doorsteps.

“This evening at 9:30 p.m. we will be joining people around the country in a doorstep vigil, standing on our doorsteps and shining a light — a candle, a torch, a phone — to remember Sarah Everard and all women affected by and lost to violence,” the organizers of the event, Reclaim These Streets, said on Twitter in reference to Ms. Everard, whose killing has set off an outpouring of solidarity and anger in Britain this week.

Lawmakers, activists and women’s rights organizations had called for a gathering in Clapham Common, the South London park near where Ms. Everard was last seen alive, to demand actions to address violence against women and to pay tribute to her.

A court had ruled on Friday that the gathering could be deemed unlawful because of Covid-19 restrictions, and the police urged prospective attendees to stay at home.

charged with kidnapping and murdering Ms. Everard, the police said late Friday. Mr. Couzens, 48, appeared in court on Saturday.

While the authorities have tried to reassure the public by pointing out that abductions in London are rare, the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has also acknowledged that its streets are not safe enough. Many have said that as lockdown restrictions have emptied the country’s streets, people have felt unsafe walking in public.

said in a statement in reference to the city’s Metropolitan Police.

The organizers said they had been told that they faced a fine of 10,000 pounds ($14,000) if they went ahead with the vigil. Instead, they set up a fund-raiser to support women’s causes around Britain, and moved ahead with the new approach, a doorstep vigil.

“We are clear that women’s voices will not be silenced, now or ever,” they said.

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