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Police activities in the Black Lives Matter demonstration

Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen finds it problematic from the perspective of the emphasised impartiality required of the police that two police officers whose task was to supervise the Black Lives Matter demonstration agreed to be photographed holding demonstration signs with the participants.   

The police`s actions to end the demonstration were not unduly delayed

At least 3,000 people took part in the demonstration held in June 2020, while the restrictions at that time would have allowed only 500 participants. Both the police and the organiser of the demonstration seem to have been taken by surprise when many times more people arrived than was expected. According to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the police's actions to put an end to the demonstration were not delayed in a manner that would have given him cause for criticism.   

Demonstration supervisors must remain in their impartial role
 
According to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, a police officer supervising demonstration should not take a stand in favour or against that demonstration, but should remain neutral. In this case, too, the uniformed policemen were not only safeguarding the exercise of the freedom of assembly, but also supervising that the organiser fulfilled its obligations under the law.  

The Ombudsman emphasised that it is not a question of what the subject of the demonstration was and how it might be generally considered worth supporting. Although it is the duty of the police to combat racism, this did not entitle police officers to deviate from the role of an impartial supervisor. The police must act in such a way that its actions look impartial also from the point of view of an external observer. 

Due to the nature of its tasks, the police is required to be impartial in an emphasised manner. It is therefore important that the police carefully ensure that there is no basis for suspicions of bias. 

Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen's decision no 4428/2020 has been published (in Finnish) on the Parliamentary Ombudsman's website at www.oikeusasiamies.fi. 

For more information on the matter, please contact Principal Legal Adviser Juha Haapamäki, tel. +358 9 432 3334.