In one circulated photo of Sarah Everard, the British woman whose recent murder in London has enflamed her country, she looks a lot like the actor Tatiana Maslany, the star of Orphan Black. In that series, Maslany played a myriad of indisputably strong and almost invulnerable characters, encapsulating the modern woman in all her permutations and gradations, strengths and weaknesses.
That resemblance makes Ms. Everard's death even harder to grasp, but real life does not always imitate art; and in 2021 England, Sarah Everard lived in that real life where it can all end in an instant.
By now you know the story: on March 3, Ms. Everard visited a friend just under an hour’s walk away from her home. At 9:00 p.m. she left, choosing to walk through Clapham Common, a large park. Along the way she spoke to her boyfriend on a cell phone—14 minutes—and was spotted by a security camera. She was not heard from again. A week later her body was found 50 miles away.
As horrible as the crime was, the aftermath has provided its own indignities.
First, a police constable was arrested in connection with the crime; then the Metropolitan police (the Met) harassed and abused women involved in a weekend protest.
And then the blathering began:
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday regarding Ms. Everard's family, “I cannot imagine how unbearable their pain and grief is. We must work fast to find all the answers to this horrifying crime,” adding, “I will do everything I can to make sure the streets are safe and ensure women and girls do not face harassment or abuse.”
He won't. He can't, not when Parliament is entertaining proposals to strengthen police authority. (Between 2012 and 2018, a total of 562 officers in the Metropolitan Police were accused of sexual assault — but only 43 of them faced any disciplinary action. They don't need more authority.)
Met commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said that the arrest of the constable sent “shockwaves and anger through the public and through the Met.” She added, “I speak on behalf of all my colleagues when I say that we are utterly appalled at this dreadful, dreadful news. Our job is to patrol the streets and to protect people.”
We know what the job is—we'd like them to do it. And lest anyone think that they are, witness the treatment of women at the vigil held for Ms. Everard, as Met Officers body-slammed protesters to the ground, handcuffed and led women away from the event, and arrested four. Police officials maintained that the rules of the pandemic prohibited large gatherings, but England also operates under the 1998 Human Rights Act, which provides for the defense of individual rights and compels public organizations – including the Government, police, and local councils – to treat everyone equally, with fairness, dignity, and respect. The fact that no one could have predicted the pandemic does not excuse the abhorrent police behavior.
The mistreatment of women by the police, rampant in England for years, has finally come to the fore, gathering more evidence stories like this:
Earlier this year, five officers in Hampshire police’s serious organized crime unit were sacked after they were recorded making racist, sexist and homophobic remarks, referring to women as sluts and whores and wondering—in lewdly graphic language— if they were getting enough sex.
In June 2020 two women were stabbed to death and two officers took selfies next to their bodies.
Those who know Met Commissioner Dick claim that she will redouble efforts to keep women safe, but how she will tamp down what many refer to as male toxicity and institutional misogyny in the Met remains to be seen.
Some are already saying that the death of Sarah Everard will turn the tide on policing in England. It’s long overdue, and it's possible, but we in America also remember that the senseless murder of Breonna Taylor served only as a prelude to the senseless murder of George Floyd. Even the most obvious lessons often go unlearned.