Image: Edrece Stansberry on Unsplash
The cancellation of a Sheffield vigil has sparked fears for the future of rights to protest and civil liberties.
The vigil, organised by Reclaim These Streets, to honour the late Sarah Everard who was murdered by a serving police officer, was called off on Saturday.
South Yorkshire Police issued a statement warning that it would not be safe because of COVID-19 and anyone attending would be given a fine.
Hayley Carman, 38, an MSc Criminology and Criminal Justice student who attended the online vigil, said: “The cancellation is dangerous in terms of our civil liberties and our rights to protest.”
She said she believed coming together in person was more important now than ever and that the digital age had caused communities to feel lost and isolated from one another.
The recently proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, introduced by Home Secretary Priti Patel, has caused further stirs in the wider community.
The bill would give greater powers to police authorities to restrict public protests.
Hayley said: “This bill is a rushed policy, it has nothing to do with public safety or public interest.”
She claimed the issue faced by the police in dealing with this and past protests, such as BLM and Extinction Rebellion, was a ‘resource issue not a legislative issue’.
Green councillor Martin Phipps, one of three councillors representing the Sheffield city ward, called the decision to cancel the event ‘unacceptable’.
He said: “We’ve had protests during covid that have been allowed to go ahead, as is legal rights.
“This was going to be a peaceful, well-observed, socially-distanced gathering and yet it is being clamped down on.”
Coun Phipps went on to say that while any gathering posed a risk, rates of COVID-19 were dropping.
“The amount of police time put down against peaceful protests has been a problem for years.
“We should allow people to mourn and protest and reflect on the serious issues we have in society right now with sexism and misogyny,” he added.