Police didn't intervene in the Auckland Black Lives Matter protest despite it breaking alert level 2 regulations to avoid creating "tension", it has been revealed.
On Monday, several thousand people attended the rally, sparked by the death of African-American George Floyd in the United States but also racist policing in New Zealand and trials to routinely arm officers.
Under Covid-19 alert level 2 regulations, gatherings of more than 100 people are not permitted, and while organisers before and during the rally urged attendees to keep to two-metre social distancing, the sheer numbers involved made this near impossible.
As images emerged of vocal protesters packed into Aotea Square and later marching down Queen St towards the United States Consulate, opposition politicians said it was an "insult" to New Zealanders who had been following restrictions.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters called for organisers to be prosecuted and asked why New Zealand was not at alert level 1 if authorities were condoning mass gatherings.
But while many protests in the United States have transformed into riots with violent police confrontations, in New Zealand events on Monday were peaceful, despite an estimated 4000 people gathering in Auckland, and smaller protests in Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Police Assistant Commissioner Lauano Sue Schwalger told the Herald their actions were based on keeping the events that way - ensuring safety and upholding the law, while recognising the lawful right to protest.
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As is common practice, police contacted organisers ahead of the event to ensure it was carried out in a peaceful manner, and that they were aware of the guidelines for mass gatherings under alert level 2 restrictions.
"Police acknowledge organisers made an effort to ensure participants complied with the guidelines," Schwalger said.
"For example, at the vigil on Parliament grounds, participants were provided with sanitiser and encouraged to maintain social distancing, and in Auckland organisers specifically requested that participants maintain social distancing."
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However in Auckland, it quickly became "impractical" with the sheer numbers of people attending.
"It was an unfortunate reality," Shwalger said.
Police have not commented on how many staff were attending, but on the day few were visible, with one patrol car at the front for traffic control.
In explaining why there was no intervention after the crowds got out of control, Shwalger said their actions were always "dictated by the situation presented to us".
"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."
As previously reported, Shwalger said enforcement action was not considered appropriate following Monday's events, and police decided to take an "educative approach" with organisers instead.
"Police will be further engaging with organisers of the events to set clear expectations for any future action," Shwalger said.
Following the protest, microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles raised concerns about the protesters not wearing masks nor social distancing, and called for anyone who attended the protests to self isolate for the next 14 days.
However, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has since said this was not necessary as there was no community transmission in New Zealand.
"People will no longer be silenced"
In response to criticism over the event, Black Lives Matter Solidarity Auckland organiser Shalene Williams said they followed the rules and did everything else right to keep those attending safe.
"We worked with Auckland Police to reinforce the social distancing message every 5 to 10 minutes.
"We handed out masks, had hand sanitiser available and followed contact tracing protocol."
They were "blown away" at the response overall, she said.
"There was so much love and support, from police as well, meeting our intention of having a peaceful and respectful march.
"It is a testament to the trauma everyone is feeling and how important the issue is.
"People will no longer be silenced."
Protests and riots have erupted across dozens of US cities after a disturbing video surfaced showing bystanders pleading with a white police officer kneeling on the neck of Floyd as he gasped for breath in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Floyd died after the incident, the latest in a string of deaths of black men and women at the hands of US police. The officer in question, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
The New Zealand protests joined what has become a global movement of people taking to the streets in solidarity across the globe, including in Canada, Germany, and Britain.
Ahead of the Auckland rally organisers said they wanted to "put pressure on our government from the local level, right up to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to publicly condemn the acts of violence and state-sanctioned murder against African Americans in the United States".
Others at the rally spoke of the "militarisation of the New Zealand police", and its disproportionate effect on Māori and Pacific Island communities.
Since the rally, protesters have continued calls for Ardern to publicly denounce the death of Floyd and racial violence.
"Jacinda Ardern, we are disappointed that you did not condemn the murder of George Floyd," Williams said.
"In fact, your tone and dismissiveness has been patronising and condescending.
"Anti-black racism and white supremacy is real and affects various communities in Aotearoa. Speak up and extend your sympathy and kindness to all of Aotearoa."