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PSNI Inspector ‘lost a sense of belonging’ over force’s handling of BLM protests

The PSNI said it is working to ‘implement lessons learned’

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PSNI Inspector Richard Williams. Credit: BBC.

PSNI Inspector Richard Williams. Credit: BBC.

PSNI Inspector Richard Williams. Credit: BBC.

A senior PSNI officer has spoken of his hurt over the organisation’s handling of the Black Lives Matter protests and said he “lost a sense of belonging”.

Inspector Richard Williams, who joined the then RUC in 1994, felt the PSNI took an aggressive approach in pursuing the BLM protestors but failed to challenge subsequent protests.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne apologised after the Police Ombudsman found the PSNI’s handling of the June 2020 protests in Belfast and Londonderry was unfair and discriminatory.

A report by Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson stated this was “not intentional and not based on race or ethnicity”.

Chief Superintendent Gerry McGrath said although a further Ombudsman’s investigation is ongoing, the PSNI is working to “implement lessons learned” and are engaging with colleagues and affected communities to rebuild a “deficit of trust”.

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Officers handed out 70 Covid-19 fines at BLM protests but no penalties were issued at a loyalist ‘Protect our Monuments’ rally in Belfast less than a week later.

However, in August of this year, those who had been issued with a penalty notice or who had already paid the £60 fine, were informed that it would be refunded.

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A Black Lives Matter protest outside Belfast City Hall. Picture: Kevin Scott/Belfast Telegraph.

A Black Lives Matter protest outside Belfast City Hall. Picture: Kevin Scott/Belfast Telegraph.

A Black Lives Matter protest outside Belfast City Hall. Picture: Kevin Scott/Belfast Telegraph.

Speaking for the first time since the BLM protests, Inspector Williams, who is from an ethnic minority group, said the PSNI’s decision to fine those at the BLM rallies and not the Protect our Monuments protest made it feel like one community mattered more than the other.

“It was quite hurtful in terms of my place in the organisation,” he told BBC Northern Ireland’s The View.

“It did send out a message that maybe the organisation didn't care about things that mattered to me whereas when we saw the cenotaph protest when they didn't hand out any tickets that was a different optic then.

“Maybe that’s what mattered more to them - that community rather than the ethnic minority community.

“The police doesn't belong to anybody, it belongs to everybody.

“It’s very important that the messaging goes out to all communities that the police act in an even handed manner to all communities.”

Chief Superintendent McGrath said the PSNI’s approach to policing the BLM protests unintentionally damaged the confidence and trust of the black, Asian and minority ethnic community (BAME).

For officers and staff, in conjunction with the Ethnic Minority Police Association and others, the PSNI are running four themed events to celebrate Black History Month, and broaden the organisation’s thinking about the term racism as it is experienced within communities, institutions and wider society as a whole.

"We have established a strategic community engagement team to help us address community concerns and are reviewing our policies to embrace best practice,” said Chief Superintendent McGrath.

“This work will take time and we remain determined to improve relationships and build confidence and trust in policing among all communities in Northern Ireland.

“It is also vital that the police service is representative of the communities we serve.

“Increasing representation of BAME police officers and staff continues to be a focus, particularly as we approach our forthcoming student officer recruitment campaign which will go live in the coming weeks.”

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s first black councillor Lilian Seenoi-Barr, who also took part in the BLM protests, said due to the unionist-nationalist make up of the country, smaller communities have not “been given that space” to join the political scene.

“I think we have been blocked completely to have that progress because of the binary of the political environment that we live in,” said the SDLP councillor.

“For minority ethnic people it becomes a choice - do I want to get involved in the division and the politics of division or should I get on with my life and hope that something will happen?

“We are quickly realising that we need to get involved to break that.”


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