Discrimination finding fails to bring change

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PSNI chief Simon Byrne has failed to acknowledge institutionalised bigotry within the force after the Police Ombudsman admitted that Black Lives Matter protestors had been discriminated against.

Black and Minority Ethnic communities have expressed anger at some of the Ombudsman’s watered-down findings about the PSNI’s decision to confront protestors and issue spurious Covid-19 fines at Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year. No fines were issued at a subsequent unionist-supported anti-BLM counter protest, when no social distancing was evident, showing up the PSNI’s double standards in its approach to the issue.

There have also been consistent allegations of racism in the force’s refusal to properly investigate the disappearance and death of 14-year-old mixed race boy Noah Donohoe.

The focus on racism within the PSNI comes amid increasing concern over the naked sectarianism on display as some members have begun openly wearing sectarian and pro-RUC symbols.

A statement by the North West Migrants Forum and other anti-racism groups rejected claims by the Police Ombudsman that the PSNI’s discrimination was “unintentional” and not based on ethnicity.

“On what basis was the discrimination if not on race or ethnicity?” they wrote.

Calling for the PSNI to offer a “proper apology” and take action to address failings, they added: “We urge both the PSNI and political leaders to recognise that institutional racism remains endemic... and that urgent steps need to be taken to dismantle it and the necessary resources need to be allocated to the task.”

Lawyer Darragh Mackin, who represents the protesters, said the PSNI’s actions “rode a cart and horses” through their human rights.

“We now have been instructed to take formal steps for the recovery of the fines in question and for damages for the unlawful detentions that ensued as a result of the police actions,” he said.

Patrick Corrigan, of Amnesty International, said the PSNI had failed to uphold people’s rights to freedom of expression, protest and peaceful assembly.

People Before Profit councillor Matt Collins, who was cautioned during the Belfast protest, said it had been “a master class in social distancing” and described the PSNI actions as “utterly shameful”.

“All fines and threats of prosecution must be dropped immediately,” he added.

Sinn Féin policing spokesman Gerry Kelly said: “The police should always be proportionate and accountable and should treat everyone in society equally. Where that does not happen the PSNI should apologise, as they have in this case. The question now is what should be done,” he said.

“The PSNI must realise that our society has changed and must make moves to ensure there is meaningful change on how the organisation deals with ethnic minority communities.

“Key to this is the roll out of proper human rights training for PSNI officers alongside meaningful engagement with affected communities.”

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