PSNI has progressed since BLM protests, says NBPA’s Andy George

The PSNI’s most high-profile black officer has said he nevertheless has “a lot of faith” in the Chief Constable despite the force’s poor handling of last year’s local Black Lives Matter protests.

ome 70 fines were issued by police at the Belfast and Londonderry protests, in contrast to a Protect Our Monuments rally when no one was prosecuted.

Andy George, president of the National Black Police Association (NBPA), said Simon Byrne who publicly apologised for his officers’ conduct at the BLM events — is nevertheless the right person to supervise progress on racial issues.

“When it comes to race, I nevertheless have a lot of faith in the Chief Constable,” said Mr George, whose association represents all black/ethnic minority police associations in the UK.

“While progress has been made, more needs to be done, and Simon Byrne is the person to do that because he is genuine in his desire to get things changed.

“That was borne out when the Chief Constable was asked to rule an anti-racism march in the north west.

“That showed that there was definitely movement on the part of the PSNI to increase that trust and confidence in external communities.”

His comments come as another black officer, Richard Williams, described the handling of the June 2020 protests as “difficult and hurtful”, adding that it had “shattered trust and confidence” in the PSNI

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 later protests.

Mr Byrne apologised after a watchdog found the PSNI’s handling of the June 2020 protests in Belfast and Londonderry were 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 current, the PSNI is working to “implement lessons learned” and are engaging with colleagues and affected communities to rebuild a “deficit of trust”.

Officers handed out 70 Covid-19 fines at BLM protests but no penalties were issued at a loyalist Protect Our Monuments rally in Belfast the following week.

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.

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 while when we saw the cenotaph protest when they didn’t hand out any tickets that was a different optic then.

“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 already handed manner to all communities.”

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

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