A Northern Ireland man who heads up a UK group which advocates for black and ethnic minority police officers has said community leaders here are "absolutely livid" at the PSNI's handling of the anti-racism protests.
Andy George, who is vice-President of the National Black Police Association (NBPA), said authorities have not properly acknowledged the depth of passion felt by the people who gathered in Belfast and Londonderry for Black Lives Matter rallies.
The protests, held last weekend in honour of George Floyd, who died while being arrested in the US, have sparked controversy after around 70 protesters were issued fines under the current Covid-19 health legislation which prohibits gatherings of more than six people.
Following criticism of the PSNI operation, First Minister Arlene Foster backed the response as "proportionate".
Yesterday Health Minister Robin Swann repeated warnings that those protesting could result in our health service experiencing pressure further down the line.
Speaking solely under the auspices of the NBPA, the 40-year-old, who is a PSNI officer, said that while he accepted "the need to protect public health", minority communities here felt the police response was driven by political pressure.
"The PSNI was one of the few, if not the only, police force in the whole of the UK that went down the enforcement route, and I'm not going to say whether that's right or wrong. But I don't think that there was enough recognition around the reasons why people were coming out," he said.
Stressing the PSNI should adopt a "consistent approach" in enforcing the Covid-19 restrictions, Mr George continued: "Ethnic minority leaders are absolutely livid. (Since the weekend) I have done nothing but take calls from leaders from the ethnic minority community. They believe it was enforced just because there was a more political outcry for enforcement."
He continued: "Obviously there is an ongoing pandemic, there is the public health risk that needs to be looked at. But we have had numerous occasions where people have crowded in areas around parks, around beaches. Ikea was reopened last week. We're starting to see more people gathering now.
"I'm all for the police enforcing the law but for me it's around consistency in approach in dealing with crowded gatherings."
However, Mr Swann insisted there are no "mixed messages" contained in the regulations in relation to shop queues and protests, insisting the latter is clearly banned.
"No matter how just your cause is, at this minute in time, and no matter how much you believe your cause is just, have a thought if there is a further contagion or spread of Covid-19 because of you attending that protest," he told the daily Stormont briefing.
"The knock-on effect it has for our colleagues in the health service. The pressure that it puts them under. At this minute in time I'm saying clearly to the people, please have a thought of how you represent your frustration and your anger.
"Mass gatherings is not the answer... as we still try to deal with Covid-19."
Meanwhile, Mr George said that if he were to be on police duty at an anti-racism rally, he would 'take the knee' - an act of solidarity shown by some officers to protesters - however, he insisted it is an individual choice for his peers.
"I don't think we should make anybody do it. I don't think we should stop anybody," he said.
Mr George, who is also vice-chair of the PSNI's ethnic minority policing association, revealed that he personally has been subjected to racist slurs from other people here because of his skin colour.
"I was born in Northern Ireland, and I'm told many times to go back home. I am home. Just because of the colour of my skin, does not mean that I'm not part of society," he added. "Growing up I was assaulted many times."
The police officer explained he was driven to do what he does because his sister, Vikki, took her life at the age of 24, ten years ago, because of racist bullying, which started in her mid-teens.
"She had different issues around mental health but my sister took her own life in the end because of racism. She got severe bullying and ended up starting to call herself the N-word. It was all that self-deprecation but it was only because everyone else was doing it and she felt she had to say it to fit in," he explained.
"Racism is traumatic. One person's banter is another person's trauma. All she wanted to do was love everybody and she wanted to be accepted and loved by everybody else but she never got that."
In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, Chief Constable Simon Byrne said: "Along with a number of colleagues I met with Inspector Andrew George and other community representatives via conference call today to listen to their views of our policing of the Black Lives Matter protests in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry last weekend. It was a constructive and positive engagement which I found very beneficial.
"I heard a powerful message from community members on the call about our policing style, methods of engagement and institutional racism. I have proposed a way ahead and offered to meet again in two weeks with firmer proposals."