By ELLA TORRES, ABC News
(LONDON) — London’s Metropolitan Police has faced widespread criticism over its handling of a vigil this weekend to honor Sarah Everard, a woman allegedly murdered by one of the Met’s own officers, and other women who have been killed at the hands of men.
Hundreds of people, mostly women, attended the gathering on Saturday on Clapham Common in south London where Everard was last seen on March 3. Despite what had been a calm and peaceful event in the afternoon, tensions arose in the evening as officers began ordering people to disperse and threatening those who didn’t with arrest.
Photos then captured police forcibly removing women from the scene, including one shot of a woman pinned to the ground by two officers. Four women were arrested for public order and coronavirus regulation breaches, according to police.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday he was “concerned” by the footage he saw, according to BBC News. Johnson added that while the police do have a difficult job, “the scenes that we saw were very distressing.”
Other politicians, including London’s mayor Sadiq Khan and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice David Lammy, called the policing on Saturday “unacceptable.”
Lammy wrote on Twitter that this is “no time for the government to impose disproportionate controls on the right to protest.”
Khan said in a statement that he asked for the Inspectorate of Constabulary, which is responsible for inspection of the police forces, to conduct a full independent investigation into Saturday’s events. He also said that he asked the Independent Office for Police Conduct to investigate the actions of the officers.
“I received assurances from the Metropolitan Police last week that the vigil would be policed sensitively. In my view, this was not the case,” Khan said.
The head of the Met Police, Cressida Dick, has said she will not resign despite calls for her to do so.
“If it had been lawful, I’d have been there … Unfortunately, later on, we had a big, big crowd that gathered, lots of speeches, and quite rightly, as far as I can see, my team felt that this is now an unlawful gathering,” Dick said.
The lawfulness of the vigil was questioned by police because of Britain’s lockdown measures for coronavirus. On Friday, a High Court judge said that there was a window for the vigil to continue safely. However, the organization behind the event, Reclaim These Streets, later canceled it because they said police were not willing to work with them to create a COVID-safe event. Many mourners still showed up on Saturday on their own accord.
Everard, 33, disappeared after she left her friend’s house on March 3 around 9:30 p.m. and began to walk to her own home.
Her remains were found more than a week later in Kent, about 55 miles southeast of London. A police officer working with the Met, 48-year-old Wayne Couzens, has been charged with murder and kidnapping.
Couzens joined the force in September 2018 and most recently worked with Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command where his primary role was on uniformed patrol duties of diplomatic premises, police said.
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