The PSNI’s meek acceptance of the feeble ombudsman report on Black Lives Matter does not build confidence in the police
Congratulations to the News Letter on its Morning View last Wednesday (‘Ombudsman report on BLM is shocking, as is the PSNI rollover, December 23).
This is the Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson’s first investigation into PSNI policy and practice, so she evidently sees the Black Lives Matter (BLM) issue as a priority.
Mrs Anderson says she consulted with “representatives of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities”.
BAME is a clumsy (and arguably racist) term which lumps together a range of diverse groups. In this case it apparently includes some self-appointed spokesmen for black people but none from less fashionable minorities.
She also spoke to our commissioners for human rights and equality: no doubt they all had important insights into the exigencies of policing practice during a public health emergency.
Mrs Anderson’s finding is that the PSNI behaved “inconsistently” at two different BLM protests.
Why? Because more fixed penalty notices were handed out in Londonderry on June 6 than in Belfast on the same day.
In both places nobody was arrested, no force was used, and there were no complaints about officers’ conduct. In the esoteric world of human rights specialists, numerical difference morphs into unfairness.
Mrs Anderson also examines how the PSNI managed a ‘Protect Our Monuments’ protest on June 13.
Here, the alleged inconsistency is that the police had tried to persuade the BLM organisers to call their event on 6 June off but let the later event proceed.
No matter that the justice minister Naomi Long had also asked the BLM organisers to cancel their event on public health grounds.
The ombudsman then rips the belly out of her own criticism by saying that the police rationale for the later event showed learning from the earlier one.
If the police behaved differently on 13 June because they had learned the lessons of their own experience at earlier events, that can hardly be condemned as ‘inconsistency’.
Mrs Anderson also suggests that the PSNI failed to take account of the depth of public feeling about racial equality.
Is she seriously arguing that it’s alright to break the law and undermine public health if you feel strongly enough about an issue?
Or does it depend on whether the issue is fashionable and who is doing the feeling?
If popular outrage is now to be the yardstick for an investigation of police practice, when can we expect the ombudsman to report on the PSNI’s advance planning for the Bobby Storey funeral on June 30? Perhaps the public hasn’t expressed its feelings on that deliberate flouting of public health regulations clearly enough, or they haven’t percolated through to the human rights experts.
The ombudsman’s remit is to build trust in policing.
How can the public have confidence in an ombudsman who produces such a feeble report, or a chief constable who meekly accepts it?
Dr WB Smith, Belfast BT15
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