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In the wake of Sarah Everard's death and the events that followed, Lola Alao explores what it means to be a Black woman in London.

On a week that began with International Women’s Day, a time meant to be celebratory, a day to amplify the achievements of women across the globe, it turned out to be emotionally taxing, triggering and overwhelming for so many women. Not unlike the feeling of being in a dark room for so long, only to be finally given some light, and then have it violently ripped away from you in a way again, it feels bittersweet and contradictory.

“I’m home”. Two words my fingers are ready to type out on autopilot as soon as I open my front door and step into my home. And if I forget, I usually get a frantic message from my friends asking if I’ve made it back safely. A widely shared post on Instagram last week – a screenshot of a text that reads “text me when you get home” – was a reminder of the worry and fear we feel for our friends when we go our separate ways and have to make our way home by ourselves. It’s a series of words I’ve said so many times to my friends. Sometimes in the middle of the day, when it’s not even dark yet. Other times, at 1am. Taking our journeys home with hearts that beat extra loudly and keys that stay firmly gripped in our hands.

We’re not ignorant to the dangers of being out at night. And many of us were barely teens when we were told not to wear short skirts or walk in certain areas alone. Warnings that were a marker of the misogynistic patriarchal society we exist in but also how much of the onus is put on women to act a certain way and adapt our lives around potential threats. But the death of Sarah Everard still left us shocked and shaken. She disappeared at 9:30pm, in bright clothes, walking home on a well-lit road by Clapham Common, an area that friends and I have walked through so many times. More notably, the fact that this incident was orchestrated by a police officer in a very calculated way, part of the very same institution whose purpose is to protect and keep us safe.

To say “it could have been any one of us”, although true, feels almost insensitive in a way that decenters Sarah and her life. But, it also seems right that given the nature of Sarah’s death, it would and should spark wider conversations about the safety of women, the dynamic of the police and the right to protest about issues like these. So many of us have experienced sexual harassment in fact, that a YouGov poll revealed that almost all young women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed. 97% of them to be exact. While 80% of women of all ages have experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. To see the facts and figures laid out so plainly, and still not have our concerns taken seriously is upsetting, exhausting and, sadly, unsurprising.

Last week, online spaces were an amalgamation of different emotions, with women taking to Twitter to speak out about the horrors they have faced and been subject to by men. But one thing remained clear: there is a pattern of women being overlooked and shouted down by the male voices we shouldn’t be hearing. Voices that are already amplified and listened to. Voices that have been given the grace they don’t deserve countless amounts of times.

The death of Sarah Everard was rightly met with anger and fury. Vigils were organised, the first of which was at Clapham Common, where people gathered to pay their respects and leave flowers as a tribute to Sarah. There were also chants of “how many women? how many more?”. And then, among a time of mourning and collective anger, women were arrested and violently grabbed by police, leading to further outrage, with people questioning why the police felt the need to do so (or what they’re good for at all).

“To see the facts and figures laid out so plainly, and still not have our concerns taken seriously is upsetting, exhausting and, sadly, unsurprising."

But Sarah’s death also opened the conversation up more widely. It made me think of the countless amounts of Black women and other ethnic minority women whose deaths were not nearly as widely publicised. Whose deaths the police refused to investigate further, under the guise of protocol. I have flashbacks of calls for Blessing Olusegun’s death to be investigated, who was found lying on a beach in Bexhill on September 18, 2020, calls mainly from people of ethnic minorities I should add. This was met with an aloof response from police, entrenched in racism, a response that was unsurprising but harrowing all the same: Blessing’s death is “unexplained but not suspicious”, they had said. 

Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman who were killed in a park in Wembley last year. Two police officers then took selfies with their murdered bodies and are still yet to be charged. 

12-year-old Shukri Abdi who was drowned in a river and despite witnesses saying she was forced into the water by a group of people, Great Manchester police have still not investigated her death. 

Activist Fannie Lou Hamer previously said “nobody’s free until everybody’s free”, a statement that challenged the White feminism we still see today. A form of oppression faced by ethnic minorities that violently excludes us, leaving us open to injustice, exploitation and abuse. It is a reminder that feminism is still not where we need it to be, and won’t be until we treat the deaths of Black women with the same sensitivity, publicity and attention as white women. 

This week the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, led by Priti Patel and the Home Office, has its second reading in the House of Commons. If this bill is passed, we could see an end to many of our freedoms in the way we protest. Police would be given more powers to step in on non-violent protests. This could lead to the arrests of innocent people, among other issues – and police abusing their power, something they have shown themselves to have done countless amounts of times, particularly to people from minority backgrounds. To prevent this bill from becoming law, you can write to your MP using this template and sign this petition. 

Women have fought for our rights and died doing so, for decades. Sarah Everard’s death is unfortunately a reflection of the very flawed society we live in, underpinned by the patriarchy, racism, sexism, and a culture that encourages the protection and defence of men. Sarah Everard deserved to be protected, deserved to be safe, and so did all the other women who died as a result of the police’s incompetency. This is not the time to be silent. 

Words by Lola Christina Alao / main image by jonathan muriu

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