By Sophie Macaroni
Content/trigger warning: male on female violence, racism, sexual violence and police brutality.
The brutal kidnapping and destruction of Sarah Everard by PC Wayne Couzens has been a high profile case. Initially a social media campaign, and then a terrifying news story which provoked the mainstream press to briefly hold a magnifying glass up to the Met. Responses from Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick were abysmal, referring to Couzens as “a bad’un”; as if he was a troubled scruffy thing who had a habit of stealing Lucozade from the local offie, rather than a bloodthirsty police officer with a categorical history of abusing women and feminine presenting people.
Sarah Everard’s story is desperately sad, preventable, and enraging. It captured the minds and hearts of the nation throughout the earliest lockdown period, and once more recently during the unfolding of the criminal case. I wish it were as much of a freak happening as the police officers who spoke publicly on the matter claimed. In reality, Sarah’s case was seized upon to sell papers because she fit the bill of someone who the tabloids love to tell the gruesome tales of demise about.
The term used to describe this, as heartless as it sounds, is missing white woman syndrome. Whiteness, class, income, appearance, marital status, sexuality – all of these things are reasons why the press talk about victims of violent crime in a different way than their counterparts, and indeed, why some people get more police time than others. Another woman was found dead in unexplained circumstances in the same year as Sarah – Blessing Olusegun.
Blessing was a 21 year old business student from London in Bexhill for a care job. The last contact anyone had from her were text messages late at night asking people to stay on the phone with her while she went for a walk. The next morning she was found dead on the beach with her shoes and phone piled nearby. Her mother has repeatedly requested the police do their jobs and tell her what happened to her daughter.
A petition with over 8000 signatures has been signed urging the police to do so. Sussex police have released a lengthy statement professing that institutional racism has played no part in their investigation, but the stark difference in the media response as well as level of forensic investigations between the cases of Blessing Olsegun and Sarah Everard, is unmistakable.
‘Under fire: The shooting of Mrs Cherry Groce’ Kimathi Donkor 2005
Police violence isn’t a new issue, especially in communities of working class people of colour. Cherry Groce, a Jamaican mother of six children, was shot by metropolitan police in her own home on the 28th September 1985. The police were looking for her son, who they did not find, and entered the property by force. The shooting would leave Cherry paralysed and wheelchair bound until her death in 2011. Douglas Lovelock, the officer who shot her, was prosecuted, but acquitted. The shooting would spark the demonstration that became the 1985 Brixton riot.
Just days later, on October 5 1985, Cynthia Jarrett died of a heart attack during a police raid on her home in Broadwater Farm, Tottenham. Four officers searched the property after wrongfully arresting her son, Floyd Jarrett. Her daughter Patricia claimed she saw one of the officers, DC Randle, push her mother to the floor during the incident but he has always denied this. No police officer has ever been charged or disciplined for their part in the death of Cynthia Jarrett.
Sarah Reed was a woman who received abuse at the hands of the police horrible enough to turn anyone’s stomach. In 2012 she was falsely arrested and assaulted by PC James Kiddie who broke two of her ribs and beat her viciously. Caught on CCTV, Kiddie was convicted of common assault and dismissed from the police force. His punishment? 150 hours of community service.
Sarah, who had been suffering with mental health problems since the death of her baby, was later arrested and charged with GBH whilst in a psychiatric unit. Some reports say that her alleged act of GBH was in fact self defence when sexually assaulted by another patient. She was held in remand in Holloway Prison and her condition deteriorated due to a complete failure by the prison to provide the necessary medication and care for Sarah.
She was found dead on January 11, 2016. The prison would not allow her family to see her body for three days, despite telling them she had died. Marylin Reed, Sarah’s mother, has said that at one point it felt as if a prison officer was laughing at them, and that the prison ignored her attempts to support her daughter’s health before her sad death.
These are not the only women. There are many, many others. I will not include their names here not out of a lack of respect, but because I am tired of seeing articles with lists of names racked up. We run the risk when we write these lists of taking all authenticity from the individuals and rendering them to statistics and arguments. I am tired of seeing dead women on television dramas, beautiful, lifeless, glamorised, dead bodies.
We have a bizarre sickness in our patriarchal culture of both normalising violence against women and using it to sensationalize and sell news and art. If the Police are here to protect and serve, why then, are they not committed to tackle this issue? I implore you to look further into the individual stories of the women and other people senselessly abused by members of the British police forces: the internet is awash with information.
And then there is the unendingly disturbing issue of spycops. Undercover police officers deployed to gain intelligence on activist groups, largely anarchist/animal rights/protest groups. Somehow gaining intelligence, to these officers of the law, in practice meant getting into sexual and romantic relationships with women activists under false pretences. If you entirely lie about your identity and intentions to a sexual partner, that’s not consensual sex. It’s rape.
In some of these abusive relationships the officers even had children with the women. Kate Wilson has been fighting a legal battle for the last ten years, recently it was ruled by the high court that the metropolitan police are responsible for a “formidable list” of human rights violations. This is a rare victory in an ongoing grim war.
So lots of police officers treat women terribly while on the job, but what about when they’re not working, I (don’t) hear you ask? Perhaps they hang up their hats after a long difficult day but are good fathers and husbands? On the contrary, one woman every week comes forward to report their partner who works as a policeman as seriously abusing them – or their children. The allegations are not taken seriously or followed up. Does our state automatically grant those who work as police officers diplomatic immunity to abuse women and children?
And what of women who work in the police force themselves? Surely these women are safer from their colleagues, exempt from prejudice as one of the team? Apparently not. A female former superintendent has recently told radio 4 that the met is ‘very racist and misogynistic’ and that female officers are afraid to report incidents because they will be met with male officers ignoring their calls for back-up in violent incidents going forward, leaving the female officers deliberately to suffer as much violence as possible.
Whilst incredibly disturbing, this information isn’t really too surprising when we consider the fact it’s now common knowledge that Couzen’s colleagues nicknamed him “the rapist”. Matthew Scott, Kent Police’s chief constable and police and crime commissioner states on their website that “We will be there when the public need us and we will act with integrity in all that we do.” Apparently integrity, to Matthew Scott (who’s salary is £75,000) is casually allowing sexual predators to not only go unchecked, but be given power, weapons, and access to vulnerable people as part of their work.
Bristol Copwatch expresses its unending solidarity and sorrow with the families and friends of all affected by police violence. We urge all readers to challenge misogynistic attitudes and abuse wherever you can safely do so. The road is long and very difficult but please do not think that as individuals or small communities we cannot effect any change, because we most certainly can, and moreover, we have to.