Don’t just read up on male violence and police brutality. Go out and protest, while you still can

Sisters Uncut: Don't just read about male violence. Go and protest against it

On Saturday afternoon (13 March), thousands of women and gender non-conforming people gathered to mourn Sarah Everard – who was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by a police officer – at a peaceful vigil in south London.

Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, were among those who made their way to the Clapham Common bandstand to pay their respects to Everard, after a week in which women and other people of marginalised genders shared their stories of male harassment and violence in the wake of Everard’s disappearance.

But as night fell, at around 6.30pm, police officers moved in, aggressively attempting to break up the grieving crowd around the bandstand. Widespread condemnation of the police followed, after photos went viral of male police officers pinning a woman to the ground as they arrested her.

As a result, feminist direct-action group Sisters Uncut organised a protest outside Scotland Yard, the Metropolitan Police headquarters, the next day (Sunday, 14 March).

Not lost on those of all genders who’ve experienced harassment and violence at the hands of men, and the police, was the disturbing irony of a week that began with brands celebrating International Women’s Day, included public bullying of Meghan Markle for speaking out about her mental health and experiences of racism, victim shaming of Sarah Everard, a resounding silence from men – except for those saying “not all men” – and ended with Mother’s Day.

Yesterday’s protest organised by Sisters Uncut was attended by thousands, with crowds gathering at New Scotland Yard before marching to Parliament Square where protestors gathered around the statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett.

Labour MP Nadia Whittome was one of those to speak as people called for the resignation of Met police chief Cressida Dick and chanted “kill the bill”, referring to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill.

The bill would give police more powers, meaning further criminalisation of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, forcing organisers to get police permission to protest, giving police the power to impose time and noise limits on protests, and expanding stop and search powers. It would also prevent protests, like yesterday’s, from taking place outside parliament.

Following extensive criticism of the police’s actions, the Labour Party, whose leader Keir Starmer previously said he would abstain, will now oppose the bill.

“The police commit routine and systemic violence against trans, intersex and cis women,” say Sisters Uncut. PinkNews spoke to a member of the group about the protests, the bill, and the struggle against male violence and police brutality.

PinkNews: Many women and gender non-conforming people went to vigils or demonstrations over the weekend to protest male violence and police brutality. As activists, what is it like to see the depth and breadth of public outrage and grief?

Sisters Uncut: I think everyone that’s been at a protest or a vigil this weekend – and they often blur, vigils are often protests and protests are often vigils – has been overwhelmed by the solidarity, but also the grief that we are still protesting violence at the hands of men, violence at the hands of police, violence at the hands of the state.

A lot of people – and maybe this is one of the reasons that there’s been such a response to the death of Sarah Everard – felt like we were finally moving forward. We had MeToo around three years ago, we had all of the protests and uprisings last year around Black Lives Matter. And to see, yet again, that someone has been murdered, potentially at the hands of a police officer, is deeply shocking and deeply saddening.

And while many of us felt a huge wave of solidarity and felt deeply connected to a feminist movement on Saturday, on Sunday and again today, it’s also frustrating and anger inducing. And I know that a lot of us are both full of grief and full of rage.

There will be many people, white people in particular, who are waking up to the reality of police violence in the UK. What would you encourage those people – who might be feeling angry and energised – to do next?

What we need to be doing right now is not sitting back and reading, which I think may be the response from a lot of people. I think a lot of white people’s response after and during the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer was to read. And what we can see now, and I think we knew that then, is that reading isn’t enough.

We need to protest. We need to fight for our rights, and our right to protest. So, yes, do your reading, do your learning. But go out today, and over the next few days, and protest for our right to protest.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill threatens to strip us of our right to protest. If we lose our right to protest, we lose the potential to challenge state violence, which is deadly. I’d urge people to go and protest wherever they are, and also email their MPs. We need to make as much noise as possible. We need to get this bill taken off. We don’t want amendments, we want it gone.

Sisters Uncut has faced attacks from TERFs for campaigning for *all* women who are affected by patriarchal violence. How do you answer that transphobic criticism?

At Sisters Uncut from the very beginning we’ve centred women and gender non-conforming people. We’ve never just been a movement about supporting women. So I think that’s a really important thing for everybody to hold and know.

We come from a place of understanding and believing and knowing that trans people and gender non-conforming people experience disproportionate levels of violence to cis women. And if we don’t centre those who exist on the margins, what kind of movement is that?

There’s been a lot of transphobic rhetoric around recently. And I think that is a distraction from what we need to be fighting against. We can see the way that rhetoric and discourse can get mobilised by members of the Conservative Party as a way of protecting their best interests. We need to engage with transphobia, yes. We also need to engage with the fact that actually we need to be centring trans people, centring gender non-conforming people, and not giving in to the discourse of transphobes.

Why is it important that people of all marginalised genders work together against state and male violence?

We are most powerful when we stand in solidarity with each other.

People of different genders will experience different forms of abuse and violence. It’s important for us to always recognise that there are differences in the way that that violence plays out, but that that violence all comes from the same place. And the only way that we will continue to challenge that violence is by acting together. And standing up for our right to protest, standing up for our right to be free from from gendered violence.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is being debated in parliament today. What are the dangers of this bill?

In the first instance, it empowers police to decide where, when and how we are allowed to protest and have our voices heard. It tends to do that by increasing penalties for those breaching police conditions on protests. So, this means the police can determine what we protest and how we protest. The right to protest is so essential for all people, especially those who are marginalised or survivors of violence, those who have additional marginalisation like gender non-conforming people. It’s the only way that we can hold these powerful violent institutions to account and protect ourselves.

It also proposes reintroducing measures like digital downloads of those who report to the police. [UK civil liberties campaign group] Big Brother Watch refers to this as digital strip searches, and I think we need to be challenging any increase in police power, because we know that that power doesn’t prevent violence. It doesn’t stop offending, it doesn’t get to the roots of harm, and it only breeds more harm.

We also need to be talking about the ways in which this bill will directly target survivors who report to the police. There’s nothing good about this bill, it’s rotten to its core and it doesn’t need any amendments. It needs to be scrapped in its entirety.

Labour announced yesterday it will be voting against the bill, following events over the weekend. Direct action works – congratulations. Outside of this bill, what are your key demands for politicians, policymakers and those with influence when it comes to ending male and state violence against women?

I think in relation to Labour saying they’ll vote against the bill, my understanding is they’ve only said they’ll vote against it in its current format, which I think speaks to what I was saying earlier. We’re not asking for amendment. Labour wants harsher sentences, they don’t want the bill to be scrapped – Labour wants harsher sentences for those who commit violence and harsher policing powers. Labour aren’t against an increased police presence, they’re just against this type of police presence.

At Sisters Uncut we understand that any increase in police power is dangerous and violent, and will only lead to violence. We know that when police powers are increased, there’s an increased number of survivors being arrested – we can see that in the UK, the US, all over the world. And that directly impacts Black and minority ethnic and poorer survivors, sex working survivors, lesbian, gay, transgender survivors, queer survivors and queer people as well.

We don’t need more laws because those laws don’t keep us safe. They don’t stop violence. They don’t get to the root of violence. They don’t prevent violence at all. We need funding and ways to hold people who enact harm to account, we need support for community groups, we need funding for specialist refuges – 50 per cent of which have been forced to close over the last decade.

We need funding and we don’t need any more laws.