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Justice minister describes PSNI response to anti-racism rallies ‘proportionate’

A ‘significant number’ of community resolution notices and fines were issued at rallies in Belfast and Londonderry.

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People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Custom House Square, Belfast, in memory of George Floyd who died in police custody in the US city of Minneapolis (Rebecca Black/PA)

People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Custom House Square, Belfast, in memory of George Floyd who died in police custody in the US city of Minneapolis (Rebecca Black/PA)

People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Custom House Square, Belfast, in memory of George Floyd who died in police custody in the US city of Minneapolis (Rebecca Black/PA)

Stormont justice minister Naomi Long has described the response by police to anti-racism rallies in Northern Ireland as “proportionate”.

Some cases will be reported to the Public Prosecution Service, while a “significant number” of community resolution notices (CRNS) and fines were issued to people attending rallies, police said.

An estimated 500 attended Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Belfast and Londonderry, sparked by the death of black man George Floyd in police custody in the US.

The PSNI and senior politicians had urged people not to take part in public protests, citing the coronavirus regulations in Northern Ireland which currently ban the gathering of more than six people.

Officers conducted checks on roads and at transport hubs ahead of the protests to remind those taking part of the social distancing rules.

Amnesty International expressed concern at the police response.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director, said the rally organisers went to “great lengths” to ensure social distancing in light of the current public health crisis.

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People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Custom House Square, Belfast (Rebecca Black/PA)

People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Custom House Square, Belfast (Rebecca Black/PA)

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People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Custom House Square, Belfast (Rebecca Black/PA)

“The PSNI must respect the rights of those peacefully protesting and ensure that the voices of those demanding action on tackling racial injustice are allowed to be heard,” he said.

However, Ms Long described the actions of police as “proportionate” adding they had found themselves in an “awkward situation”.

“I would have hoped that the organisers would have found other ways, whether digital or virtual ways, of marking that protest because I think many of us are in solidarity with the cause but could not be in solidarity with breaching the coronavirus regulations and placing other lives at risk,” she told the BBC.

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Parliament Buildings Stormont, Belfast was lit yellow as a strong and visible symbol of the Assembly and local community’s opposition to racism and to show its support for and solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday June 6, 2020. Photo credit should read: Michael Cooper/PA Wire

Parliament Buildings Stormont, Belfast was lit yellow as a strong and visible symbol of the Assembly and local community’s opposition to racism and to show its support for and solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday June 6, 2020. Photo credit should read: Michael Cooper/PA Wire

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Parliament Buildings Stormont, Belfast was lit yellow as a strong and visible symbol of the Assembly and local community’s opposition to racism and to show its support for and solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday June 6, 2020. Photo credit should read: Michael Cooper/PA Wire

“At the end of the day, the guidance and the regulations are there to protect life and we are all required to respect that.”

There were also socially distanced expressions of solidarity, with the painting of a new mural dedicated to Mr Floyd in West Belfast, while Stormont was lit up yellow on Saturday evening as an expression of opposition to racism.

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