Content warning: the article below contains material some readers may find distressing
On 30 September, Lord Justice Fulford handed down a whole life sentence to Wayne Couzens for the “devastating, tragic and wholly brutal” murder of Sarah Everard. Couzens was a serving Metropolitan Police officer when he kidnapped, raped and murdered Everard. He remained an officer after police arrested him in March. The force eventually sacked him in July, over a month after Couzens pleaded guilty to the kidnapping and rape of Everard, and a week after he pleaded guilty to her murder. Although the Met Police has attempted to distance itself from Couzens’ actions, campaigners have been quick to highlight that the institution is wholly complicit in Everard’s murder.
Another death in police custody
On 29 September, Couzens appeared at the Old Bailey for his sentencing in the kidnap, rape and murder of Everard. The court heard that Couzens – who was a serving Met Police officer at the time – handcuffed and falsely arrested Everard on 3 March in Clapham. Couzens showed Everard his warrant card before restraining her. Someone witnessed the off-duty officer handcuffing Everard and leading her to his car. They assumed that the young woman “must have done something wrong”. After kidnapping her, Couzens raped and murdered Everard, and left her body in the countryside.
Reflecting on the devastating details of Everard’s murder, Roxy Legane tweeted:
We will always find strength in collectively resisting the police, their sickening abuse of power and the violence they bring to our communities every day.
But reading about the tactics he used to murder, today I’m really feeling ‘the police are fucking terrifying’.
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— Roxy Legane (@RoxyLegane) September 29, 2021
Jason Okundaye shared:
With the details that have emerged about the events leading to Sarah Everard's murder, it must be documented and reported as a "death in police custody"
— Jason Okundaye (@jasebyjason) September 29, 2021
In court, it emerged that Couzens may have may have used coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown regulations to stop Everard, who was on her way home. Underlining the injustices of the unprecedented restrictions and new police powers that the government introduced in the wake of the pandemic, Moya Lothian-McLean tweeted:
Give certain groups power in a patriarchal world that encourages the dominance as social order & it will always, always be the marginalised who suffer, whether that's women, racialised men, people who reject all gender binaries. Anyone who colours outside lines set by the state
— Moya Lothian-Mclean (@mlothianmclean) September 29, 2021
Sarah Everard’s horrifying death drew widespread attention. But people from Black and other racially minoritised groups are overrepresented in the number of deaths following police contact. Urging people to critically assess officers’ conduct on the streets, Kojo Coram shared:
Think about Sarah Everard every time you see police officers roughing up someone on the streets and your asking yourself “should I do something?” https://t.co/qGgOEaY6kj
— Kojo Koram (@KojoKoram) September 29, 2021
Not just ‘one bad apple’
Scotland Yard issued a statement ahead of Couzens’ sentencing, saying:
Wayne Couzens will be sentenced for the kidnap, rape & murder of Sarah Everard over next 2 days.
We’re sickened, angered & devastated by his crimes. They betray everything we stand for.
We recognise his actions raise many concerns, we’ll comment further when hearing is complete
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) September 29, 2021
Georgia Lewis responded:
I'm sickened, angered & devastated too. You know what else is sickening, angering & devastating? The Met not taking it seriously when Wayne Couzens showed earlier signs of violence against women & the abhorrent way they behaved at the Sarah Everard vigil. https://t.co/UCKRysE36X https://t.co/xDvWZfqFEa
— Georgia Lewis (@georgialewis76) September 29, 2021
Pre-empting the force’s attempts to distance itself from Couzens’ heinous crimes, feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut tweeted:
The police are inherently violent, their entire purpose is to coerce and control, and right now they are drunk on power.
If this is what they are already capable of, what happens if the #PolicingBill is passed?
— Sisters Uncut (@SistersUncut) September 28, 2021
Otegha Uwagba also shared:
The @metpoliceuk are going to push a "one bad apple" line, and we shouldn't let them.
This man's inappropriate behaviour was known to several of his colleagues. Did they report him? Escalate it? No, they nicknamed him "the rapist" and laughed.
Rotten through and through. https://t.co/l8tvgqc4ob
— Otegha K. Uwagba (@OteghaUwagba) September 29, 2021
Sharing this sentiment, Black Lives Matter UK shared:
An inherently violent institution will inevitably attract violent individuals.
— #BlackLivesMatterUK (@ukblm) September 29, 2021
Underlining the toxic culture and lack of accountability inherent in the country’s police forces, Nottingham East MP Nadia Whittome shared:
15 former and serving police officers have killed women since 2009.
The last 5 years saw 800 allegations of domestic abuse against officers & 52% found guilty of sexual misconduct kept their jobs.
This isn't "one bad apple". We need justice, accountability and culture change.
— Nadia Whittome MP (@NadiaWhittomeMP) September 29, 2021
Feminist campaign group Level Up added:
“One woman each week is coming forward to report domestic abuse by their partner in the police. Hundreds of officers have been accused of sexual misconduct against their colleagues or the public in recent years.” https://t.co/NQaRl8elFO
— Level Up (@we_level_up) September 28, 2021
Calling for institutional accountability, senior researcher at the Center for Countering Digital Hate Sophie Wilkinson tweeted:
'Police officers do not view Wayne Couzens as a police officer' the day it's revealed to the public that Sarah Everard's killer used his *police* badge and belt to dupe and trap and kill Sarah Everard. Can we get a smidge of accountability? https://t.co/9pAuzGlSVs
— Sophie Wilkinson (@sophwilkinson) September 29, 2021
No more police powers
Highlighting the devastating impact of the government’s ‘law and order’ response to Everard’s murder, one Twitter user shared:
People say nothing has changed since Sarah Everard — not strictly true.
The government have since capitalised on her death to railroad their policing and surveillance agenda, particularly through their Violence Against Women strategy.
‘Protection’ never comes from the police.
— Janey (@janeyjstarling) September 23, 2021
Expanded police powers will hit people from already overpoliced and underprotected communities hardest – working class communities, communities of colour, disabled people, queer folks, and people from marginalised genders. Urging people to resist the inevitable expansion of police powers in response to Everard’s case, Ilyas Nagdee tweeted:
When they suggest the steps that need to be taken will be more police on the streets, will be undercover policing, will be more policing powers then remember the rage you feel today. No expansion of police powers. No undercover policing. No letting them off.
— Ilyas Nagdee (@ilyas_nagdee) September 29, 2021
Shahed Ezaydi explains carceral feminism as “feminism that pushes for increased policing, surveillance, and harsher laws and policies when dealing with gendered violence”. This is based on the flawed assumption that these systems and institutions are fundamentally just, supportive and benevolent to all victims and survivors. Seeking abolitionist alternatives to carceral feminist solutions to gendered violence, Sisters Uncut has launched a Copwatch Police Intervention project:
Today we're announcing a police intervention training, which will launch CopWatch patrol groups across the country.
The Police don’t keep us safe: we keep us safe. We will intervene in every stop and search, every arrest, every kidnapping. Sign up: https://t.co/ZM66OVh8wh
— Sisters Uncut (@SistersUncut) September 29, 2021
Anyone looking to get involved in the Sisters Uncut’s new programme can sign up via the organisation’s online form. The horrifying details of Couzens’ conduct, and the lack of institutional accountability regarding the case show us just how vital it is that we maintain momentum in resisting the state’s increasingly authoritarian agenda.
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