People's Democracy SS RUC badge
Dimensions: 7 x 7 cm
Organisation: People's Democracy
Source: Police Museum
A People’s Democracy badge with a picture of a senior RUC officer brandishing a blackthorn stick. The People’s Democracy was a civil rights organisation composed of students from Queen's University in Belfast. Inspired by Martin Luther King, they planned a civil rights march from Belfast to Londonderry. Many in the civil rights community feared that the demonstration would cause sectarian violence as some Loyalists viewed the march as a Republican invasion of Protestant territory. The march set off on 4 January 1969 and encountered a number of counter-demonstrations in towns along the route. As the march was legal, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) were obliged to protect it and 80 policemen were charged with accompanying the marchers.
Opponents of the People’s Democracy march planned an ambush on the Derry to Claudy road, close to Burntollet Bridge. Police warned the demonstrators of the danger but did not reroute the march. The marchers decided to continue on their route. As the unarmed demonstrators approached Burntollet Bridge, they were hit with stones and bottles and attacked by men with crowbars, chair legs, lead piping and other weapons. Dozens of the demonstrators were injured. Many of the assailants were later identified as local members of the B Specials. The marchers carried on towards Derry where they were attacked with bottles and stones. Later, some of the RUC Reserve Force entered the Catholic Bogside area of Derry, damaging property and pelting people with stones; triggering several days of rioting.
The Cameron inquiry, which investigated the disturbances concluded that the “available police forces did not provide adequate protection to the People's Democracy marchers” and that “the march had heavily overstrained their available resources”. The report also noted that “there were instances of police indiscipline and violence towards persons unassociated with rioting or disorder”. The events surrounding the People’s Democracy march caused an increase in hostility towards the police among the Catholic community and a more militant attitude in the civil rights movement.