Analysis: the police’s handling of the Sarah Everard vigil raises questions over whether authorities are going too far
Defending the Metropolitan police’s handling of Saturday night’s Sarah Everard vigil, assistant commissioner Helen Ball argued the force had to act “because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety” from the threat of coronavirus. Yet last year’s Black Lives Matter protests in some 300 US cities did not cause a spike in cases there, a July report from the National Bureau of Economic Research found. The outdoor air played a part in dispelling the virus and, in cities with big rallies, infections even fell because those who did not take part stayed home instead of shopping or eating out – activities that carry a greater risk.
While not an exact parallel with the Clapham Common event, it suggests even huge and noisy protests, where thousands of people are shouting and chanting, are not necessarily cauldrons for infection. And they can be done safely, according to the human rights organisation Liberty. For example a socially distanced rally was held in Tel Aviv in April last year against the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with thousands of people shouting and waving banners each in their own space, two metres apart.