A Vigil for a Slain London Woman Moves Ahead

LONDON — The organizers of a vigil for a 33-year-old woman who went missing in London last week, and whose body was identified on Friday, had bought 1,000 tea lights for use in the park near where the woman, Sarah Everard, was last seen.

They had set up a QR code on Britain’s contact-tracing app to make sure the attendees would respect safety rules linked to the coronavirus.

And with parks filling up in recent weeks despite lockdown measures, the organizers believed that the vigil could go ahead on Saturday to pay tribute to Ms. Everard and demand action to address violence against women.

But just hours before, they were forced to rethink the event and eventually called for a doorstep vigil instead. A court had ruled late Friday that the gathering as originally planned could be deemed unlawful because of Covid-19 restrictions, and the police urged prospective attendees to stay at home.

As Britain is gradually coming out of a monthslong lockdown, the fight over the vigil posed critical questions over balancing freedom of assembly and safety measures in the months to come, and recalled debates over marches against police brutality last year.

“This evening at 9:30 p.m. we will be joining people around the country in a doorstep vigil, standing on our doorsteps and shining a light — a candle, a torch, a phone — to remember Sarah Everard and all women affected by and lost to violence,” the organizers of the event, Reclaim These Streets, said on Twitter.

A 48-year-old police officer, Wayne Couzens, who appeared in court on Saturday, has been charged with kidnapping and murdering Ms. Everard.

More than 30 gatherings had been planned across Britain on Saturday, in what organizers hoped would convey the outpouring of solidarity and anger that Ms. Everard’s killing had set off this week.

Thousands of women have shared their own stories of street harassment and assault on social media, with Ms. Everard’s case now symbolizing an issue that many say plagues Britain: the lack of safety they face on a daily basis, at home or in public spaces.

While the authorities have tried to reassure the public by pointing out that abductions in London are rare, the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has also acknowledged that its streets are not safe enough. Many women have said that as lockdown restrictions have emptied the country’s streets, they have felt unsafe walking in public.

Ms. Everard, a marketing executive, was last seen alive at around 9.30 p.m. on March 3, while walking home from a friend’s house in South London.

Her family described her as “a shining example to us all” who was “kind and thoughtful, caring and dependable.”

“Sarah was bright and beautiful — a wonderful daughter and sister,” they added.

Lawmakers, activists and women’s rights organizations had called on people to gather in Clapham Common, the South London park near where Ms. Everard was last seen. But the organizers, a group of nine women from the umbrella group Reclaim These Streets, said the police had told them that they would face a fine of 10,000 pounds ($14,000) if they went ahead with the vigil.

Jamie Klingler, one of the organizers, said they had suggested ideas like splitting the gathering in the park into several time slots, or organizing a walk-by memorial.

They retreated on Saturday morning, instead inviting people to hold a light on their doorstep in memory of Ms. Everard.

“We’re protesting against violence against women, and we’re being shut down by the police,” Ms. Klingler, a 42-year-old events manager, said in a telephone interview. “I’m baffled.”

Several lawmakers had supported the organization of the vigil. “Even in a pandemic a small, responsible, risk-assessed vigil could surely be accommodated?” Joanna Cherry, a lawmaker for the Scottish National Party, said on Twitter. “Women’s fear of the hate & violence against us needs expression.”

The Metropolitan Police welcomed the cancellation. “We take no joy in this event being canceled, but it is the right thing to do given the real and present threat of Covid-19,” said Cmdr. Catherine Roper.

In London, dozens of passers-by laid out flowers in Clapham Common, and Ms. Klingler said the tea lights would be used to draw the path that Ms. Everard took in the city on March 3.

In a statement, the organizers of Reclaim These Streets said, “We are clear that women’s voices will not be silenced, now or ever.”

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