By Ethan Davies
NORTHERN Ireland’s Police Service (PSNI) drew heavy criticism for the way it policed Black Lives Matter protests last week.
Amnesty International have described the PSNI’s decision to fine 71 protestors using their coronavirus powers as “deeply worrying.”
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland Programme Director, said: “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.”
Corrigan also commended the protest organisers’ efforts to ensure social distancing could be adhered to.
Around 1,000 people attended demonstrations in Belfast and Derry-Londonderry on the weekend of June 6/7, according to Police, despite official warnings not to gather in large groups.
Richard Feeney, 28, was fined at the Derry-Londonderry demonstration on June 7, and described the PSNI’s approach as “racist and aggressive”.
The freelance hairstylist continued: “[Covid-19] is just another way for the [PSNI] to silence black voices. They didn’t give a fuck about us lining up outside Ikea, they didn’t give a fuck about is lining up outside McDonald’s, but when it comes to human rights they have a lot to say.”
Feeney, who is Black with mixed heritage, said he decided to join the protest because he felt it important to show people that racism “is something we experience every single day.”
Hundreds of demonstrations have erupted across the globe after George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed by Minneapolis Police officers on May 25 after being stopped for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 note.
Police Officer Derek Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes, with Floyd being heard pleading to be allowed to breathe.
Chauvin has since been charged second-degree murder and manslaughter.
In the UK, thousands have attended demonstrations in London, Manchester, and other major towns and cities in solidarity with the Black lives Matter movement.
In Bristol, demonstrators hauled down the hugely controversial statue of Edward Colston before rolling it into the city’s harbour – a move that sparked counter-protests in London this weekend which descended into violence and one person urinating next to the memorial of PC Keith Palmer.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: “Two events in support of ‘Black Lives Matter’ took place in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry this weekend. Around 500 people gathered at each protest, contrary to the current Health Protection Regulations.
“We were very clear in our messaging ahead of the protests – that people should not attend them. Had we not done this, we believe that thousands could have turned up – making social distancing impossible and increasing the risk of spreading the virus.
“We conducted checks on travel routes and transport hubs across Northern Ireland on Saturday, requiring people to return home rather than travel to the unlawful gatherings.
“No arrests were made in either city but 71 fines and Community Resolution Notices (CRNs) were handed out for breaches of the Health Protection Regulations.
“A number of individuals will now be reported to the Public Prosecution Service with a view to prosecution. It should be noted that the police’s job is to identify offences when they are committed: it is the role of the PPS to decide if prosecutions should take place.
“In other times, we would have worked with the organisers and protestors to facilitate lawful and peaceful protests to mark the avoidable and unnecessary death of George Floyd, but these are not ordinary times.”
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Featured Image: Richard Feeney