Northern Ireland news

BAME PSNI officer `lost a sense of belonging' after service's approach to the BLM protests

Inspector Richard Williams

A SERVING PSNI officer from an ethnic minority background said he "lost a sense of belonging" after seeing the service's approach to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests.

Around 70 fines were issued at Belfast and Derry in June 2020 despite no fixed penalty notices being issued at a Protect our Monuments rally in Belfast in the same month.

Inspector Richard Williams told the BBC's The View programme he "found it very difficult".

"The approach that it took in terms of pursuing, somewhat aggressively, people who were just practising their human right to protest, that was quite hurtful.

"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 they didn't hand out any tickets, that was a different optic lens.

"Maybe that is what mattered more the them, that community rather than the ethnic minority community."

By contrast he said "the very fact that people came out and protested at Black Lives Matter, Northern Irish people came out and protested, black people, white people, across the board, I found it very welcome... that people in this country cared about the things that I cared about".

"I joined the police to help protect the people of Northern Ireland, I was blown up in explosions, I put my life on the line and I felt the people had given back in terms of coming out and caring about things that mattered to the ethnic minority community."

Around 0.5 per cent of the PSNI's work force, and 41 out of 7,000 officers, come from an ethnic minority background

In 2005, the PSNI set up the Ethnic Minority Police Association (EMPA) to focus on equality and anti-discrimination issues and help it achieve a more reflective and inclusive workforce.

"The number of woman in the organisation has changed, the number of Catholic officers has changed as well," Mr Williams said.

"But in terms of ethnic minorities, it hasn't really changed much and I would question why that is.

"There has to be some movement and process to help encourage people from ethnic minority communities which are growing in Northern Ireland to join."

He said the PSNI must make sure "there aren't more black people stopped than others" and "when we go to hate crime incidents, or deal with people from ethnic minority backgrounds, we're not checking their immigration status".

"The police doesn't belong to anybody, it belongs to everybody and it's very important that the messaging goes out to all communities that the police act in an even-handed manner."

However, he praised the "great work" by Chief Constable Simon Byrne who apologised after the Police Ombudsman found the BLM protests policing was unfair and discriminatory.

Mr Williams said the chief constable has been working on "building that trust and confidence".

He joined the RUC in 1994, preferring it to forces in England where institutional racism "was very apparent and that wasn't apparent within this organisation".

But while he has support from colleagues following racist incidents, support from the organisation "has not been as forthcoming through the years".

"It's diversity of opinion that is going to progress and improve this organisation".

The PSNI said it is running four themed events "celebrate Black History Month" and making increasing presentation of BAME police officers "a focus".

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