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Black Lives Matter protest organisers, participants won't be prosecuted, police confirm

Police have confirmed there will be no prosecutions of Black Lives Matter protestors or organisers for breaking Covid-19 rules.

Protesters march down Queen Street Source: Getty

Assistant Commissioner Lauano Sue Schwalger said police considered whether enforcement would be appropriate but decided to take "an educative approach with organisers on this occasion".

"Police spoke to organisers of Monday's events to ensure they were aware of the guidelines for mass gatherings under Alert Level 2 restrictions," Ms Schwalger said. 

"Organisers made an effort to ensure participants complied with the guidelines... It was an unfortunately reality, with the numbers of people who attended, that this quickly became impractical.

"In these circumstances, it was probable that attempts to enforce Alert Level 2 would have caused tension in an otherwise peaceful protest, without being effective to enhance physical distancing, given the numbers in attendance."

Thousands gathered at Auckland's Aotea Square on Monday and it was estimated hundreds turned out in front of Parliament in Wellington to protest the killing of US man George Floyd, who died after a police officer pinned him to the ground by his neck for more than eight minutes.

Under Alert Level 2, public gatherings are limited to 100 people in New Zealand. 

Yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the protestors "have breached the rules".

"It was not right," she said. "New Zealanders have given up a lot.

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The PM says she understands the sentiment, but says rules were in place to protect people's health amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Source: Breakfast

"I understand the sentiment, but I cannot condone breaking the rules."

When asked if there is racism within New Zealand's police force, Ms Ardern said that "everyone would acknowledge no country is perfect and New Zealand has never claimed to be".

"We have to continually strive to make sure we address issues of unconscious bias in our own systems. What I am proud of is we are continually to see an increase in diversity in our police, because that is an important part of making progress."

Police Minister Stuart Nash said yesterday the way new constables are trained has changed to recognise unconscious bias in the police force - but he did not believe there is institutional racism within the force.

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Stuart Nash said he sympathised with the cause, but he was disappointed social distancing and gathering rules were broken. Source: 1 NEWS

When asked the difference, Mr Nash said "racism is a belief system whereas unconscious bias is a series of experiences that may cloud someone's view of certain circumstances or people". 

He said the result of racism and unconscious bias "can be" the same.

Tania Sawicki Mead of JustSpeak called debating the difference between racism and unconscious bias "semantics". 

"Unconscious bias is a way to get around naming racism for what it is. That discomfort people feel in naming racism is really problematic because it ignores the fact that of course there is racism Aotearoa. 

"We need to work together to address that racism and we need police to take accountability for the fact that that racism affects Māori and Pasifika, people of colour, every single day. 

The Labour Party Māori Caucus today said it made its view "very clear that we are totally opposed to the general arming of our police force", when commenting on the end of the armed response units trial.

"Continuing the conversation around intolerance and racism is crucial to Aotearoa New Zealand recovery post-Covid-19, and the Labour Māori Caucus will do our part to make sure that happens," Meka Whaitiri said. 

Yesterday, Labour's Willie Jackson said their Māori caucus could understand the "passion, anger" held by the protestors.

"We understand all that. A lot of Māori are venting the same sort of whakaaro."

Labour's Nanaia Mahuta said they were asking all groups to respect the alert level laws. 

"The substance of the issue and reason why people are so passionate about what's happening in America is because many indigenous groups can affiliate to the issue.

"However, we're in circumstances that are unprecedented. We're trying to manage crowds so we can assure people that when they go out in public they are safe. We're asking all organisers of any activity to respect the laws."