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Police will use ‘common sense’ at anti-racism protests, says Justice Secretary

Humza Yousaf said officers’ responses will be proportionate but urged people to demonstrate digitally instead.

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Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone (left) talks with Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone (left) talks with Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone (left) talks with Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Anti-racism demonstrations in Scotland in the wake of George Floyd’s death should be policed with “common sense” and proportionately, the country’s Justice Secretary has said.

Although urging people not to attend the protests planned across Scotland this weekend due to the coronavirus pandemic, Humza Yousaf said police will allow the rallies to go ahead.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Yousaf said he will be involved in several digital campaigns over the weekend.

He urged would-be protesters not to risk their lives by attending mass gatherings.

While Police Scotland’s operational response is up to its chief constable, who has spoken to the Justice Secretary “virtually every day”, Mr Yousaf said he hopes officers will police the events similarly to how they have dealt with lockdown rules.

“The approach Police Scotland will take is an approach that they’ve adopted throughout this pandemic, which is a proportionate response, a common sense approach,” he said.

“We are giving strong advice for people not to go out and you saw there’s a joint statement from myself, (lawyer and campaigner) Aamer Anwar, (Scottish Labour MSP) Anas Sarwar, Kadijartu Johnson – the sister of Sheku Bayoh – and we’ll continue to frankly make calls as many of the organisers of protests that we know and we’ve dealt with over the years to suggest that they don’t go to the streets.

“If they do, then police will take a proportionate response and appropriately facilitate that protest but ask people to disperse and, if necessary, they can enforce that request.”

Using the example of the protests against lockdown in Glasgow in May, attended by an estimated 30 to 40 people with one arrest, Mr Yousaf said: “They were allowed to say their piece and then they were asked to disperse, and the vast, vast majority of them complied with that order from the police.

“I suspect the police will take a very similar, proportionate approach here.”

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Kadijatu Johnson and Aamer Anwar are signatories to the joint statement (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Kadijatu Johnson and Aamer Anwar are signatories to the joint statement (Andrew Milligan/PA)

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Kadijatu Johnson and Aamer Anwar are signatories to the joint statement (Andrew Milligan/PA)

In the joint statement referenced by Mr Yousaf, the sister of Mr Bayoh – who died in 2015 after being restrained by officers in Kirkcaldy, Fife – also urged those demanding justice for Mr Floyd to protest digitally.

The statement warned progress on easing lockdown in Scotland is “fragile” and said: “Like so many we want to stand in unity with millions across our planet to show solidarity with those protesting against racial injustice in the USA but also to support those challenging racial injustice and discrimination in Scotland.

“The rules in place are there to protect people’s health and ultimately people’s lives.

“Therefore, as long-term anti-racist campaigners we are still urging people to protest but to use the many other methods available at this time, including digital protests.

“We hope people will understand our position and explore other methods of demonstrating practical solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter.”

Earlier in the week, chief constable Iain Livingstone said the “disgraceful and unacceptable” racism being seen in the US does not “reflect our style of policing in Scotland”.

He added: “We continue to value the strong bond of trust with all our citizens and communities.

“That trust is based on mutual respect and an absolute commitment to public service.”

On the planned demonstrations, he said: “We would encourage everyone to continue to follow the Scottish Government’s regulations and guidance on meeting outdoors, and we will engage with organisers to minimise any risk to public safety.”

PA