Gatherings for Everard in London were officially canceled after talks between organizers and the police broke down over disagreements about legality and the safety of groups of people meeting amid covid-19 restrictions. But people came to the memorial in Clapham Common anyway. By nightfall, police said the gathering was “unsafe” and called on people to leave as tensions rose. Police said four people were arrested.
As scenes of tussles circulated online, a chorus of politicians criticized the Metropolitan Police’s handling. Home Secretary Priti Patel said she had requested a full police report on the day’s developments.
Charlotte Nichols, the shadow minister for women and equalities, tweeted that if police had put the same resources into holding “the covid-secure vigil originally planned that they put into stopping any collective show of grief and solidarity (both through the courts and a heavy-handed physical response), we’d all be in a better place.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan echoed the calls. “The scenes from Clapham Common are unacceptable,” he wrote on Twitter. “The police have a responsibility to enforce Covid laws but from images I've seen it's clear the response was at times neither appropriate nor proportionate.”
In a statement released around midnight in London, Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball of the Metropolitan Police defended its actions, saying police “did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary” but it was “because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety.”
Throughout the day, hundreds of people poured into Clapham Common, a large urban park, to pay their respects, lay flowers and pause for a moment of silence. Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, was last seen March 3 and is thought to have been abducted nearby. Her body was formally identified Friday.
People gathered in socially distanced fashion around a bandstand in the center of the park. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, briefly joined the crowd and was among those who stood silently before a sea of floral tributes and handwritten notes.
One read: “It could have been any one of us — I’m so sorry it was you.” Another read: “Men, do better, protect all women.”
Yet another: “How can we feel safe when the police are to blame?”
Reclaim These Streets, the organizers of the canceled vigil, encouraged people to light a candle or shine a flashlight at 9:30 p.m., the last time Everard was seen alive. Other vigils took place around the country.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was among the first politicians to share a picture of a candle in Everard’s honor on Twitter.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a tweet that he’d be taking part along with his fiancee. “Tonight Carrie and I will be lighting a candle for Sarah Everard and thinking of her family and friends. I cannot imagine how unbearable their pain and grief is. We must work fast to find all the answers to this horrifying crime.”
The case has stunned the nation, not least because the man charged with killing Everard is a serving police officer. Couzens appeared before Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Saturday to hear his charges of kidnapping and murder.
The case has also caused a national reckoning over women’s safety and prompted a discussion among women about what it’s like to walk alone, particularly at night. Many have demanded change and called for an end to victim blaming.
For residents of Clapham, it feels especially personal: They have walked along the same streets Everard did, through the same park that’s popular with exercisers, past the bandstand, the largest in London, that hosts open-air concerts in the summer. It could have been them.
“It touched a nerve, really, that it really could have just been me,” said Lucy Davies, 24, who once lived on the road where Everard was last seen. Davies said she takes precautions when traveling alone at night: She texts friends when she’s leaving and uses location-tracking on her phone. But now she wonders whether more can be done.
“Today is important for all the days following to stop girls from feeling unsafe in areas, and maybe what men can do to help us feel a bit safer,” she said.
Another local resident, Emily Ramsey, 28, said she’s now rethinking how she travels at night. “You go for dinner, after work, get on the tube, it’s 10 p.m. and you walk home for 10, 15 minutes. You don’t think anything of it. Now, I’d probably ask my boyfriend to meet me and walk with me.”
She said the suggestion floated by some commentators that men should have a curfew was wrong. “I don’t think that’s the right solution. It’s no one’s fault, but maybe some men don’t appreciate we’re always glancing over our shoulder, you just have to hear footsteps a bit close and you automatically freeze. Hopefully this has made men a bit more aware,” she said.
Sophie Johnson, 28, who lives nearby, said that since Everard’s disappearance, she hasn’t walked outside at night by herself. She added that it wasn’t fair to place the onus on women. “We’re already doing all the right things. We walk in sensible shoes, have our keys out, don’t listen to music with both earphones, we’re already doing all those things.”
She said that the case has prompted a larger discussion among her male friends about what more they can do, like “cross the street or fake a phone call to seem noisy and you’re not sneaking up — it’s prompted a lot more conversation.”
Ryan Salisbury, 29, an art director, traveled 40 minutes in from Hampshire to pay his respects. He said it was “important that there is a visual presence of people today to show that this kind of thing is not acceptable.”
“My heart goes out to every woman who has experienced that, even on a daily basis, that misogyny and discrimination,” he said. “I want to be here to represent that’s not okay, that’s not 2021.”
Berger reported from Washington.