Urgent plea to protesters as huge crowds rally around the world

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

An earlier version of this story wrongly attributed comments to West Australian Federal MP Anne Aly. The remarks were made by NSW Federal MP Linda Burney.

As protests fighting for an end to racial injustice continue to sweep right around the globe, an urgent plea has been issued to tens of thousands of people over fears a new wave of coronavirus cases could be triggered.

New York has announced 15 testing centres dedicated to protesters will open as the city moves to ease restrictions that will see up to 400,000 people return to their workplace.

“Get a test. Get a test,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged people who have been participating in the rallies and marches in memory of George Floyd.

“I would act as if you were exposed, and I would tell people you are interacting with, assume I am positive for the virus.”

Protesters march through the streets of Manhattan on Sunday. Source: AP

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Saturday the city experienced its largest protests yet, however violence and rioting had been reduced to a minimum, prompting the decision to remove curfew.

“Last night was the best by far,” Mr de Blasio told reporters.

"We had the biggest number of protesters, the fewest arrests, the fewest problems and that convinced me it was time for the curfew to go away. I have no intention of bringing it back.”

Mr de Blasio admitted he was “frustrated” by the large number of police officers who were not wearing face masks, describing it as painful to people who may perceive law enforcement was “flouting” social-distancing rules.

The US is edging closer to two million confirmed cases, while it has had 110,141 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data, with more than 30,000 of those in the state of New York.

Slave trader statue toppled

As weekend protests across major cities in the US saw record numbers since the protests began, there was also a surge in protesters across Europe.

Protesters in the English city of Bristol vented their anger at the country’s colonial history by toppling a statue of a 17th-century slave trader.

Video online shows demonstrators attaching ropes to the statue of Edward Colston before pulling it down to cheers and roars of approval from the crowd.

Images on social media show protesters appearing to kneel on the statue’s neck, recalling the death of Mr Floyd in Minnesota on May 25 that has sparked worldwide protests against racism and police violence.

The statue was then rolled through the streets to the harbour and dumped into the water amid celebratory scenes from thousands who had lined the water’s edge.

Historian and University of Manchester Professor David Olusoga welcomed the move by protesters, saying previous attempts to peacefully remove the statue had fallen on deaf ears.

“Statues aren’t about history they are about adoration. This man was not great, he was a slave trader and a murderer,” he told the BBC.

However Home Secretary Priti Patel said the act was "utterly disgraceful" and “undermines” anti-racism protests. She called for authorities to hold those responsible accountable.

Thousands also turned out in London on Sunday, where a statue of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was targeted, with protesters crossing out his last name and spray painting “was a racist” underneath.

“Everyone knows that this represents more than just George Floyd, more than just America, but racism all around the world,” Darcy Bourne, a London-based student, said.

Protesters confront police during the Black Lives Matter protest rally in London on Sunday. Source: AP
Protesters gather around the defaced Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square during the Black Lives Matter protest rally on Sunday. Source: AP

The protests were mainly peaceful but for the second day running there were some scuffles near the offices of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and objects were thrown at police.

Hundreds of people also formed a densely packed crowd Sunday in a square in central Manchester, kneeling in silence as a mark of respect for Mr Floyd.

There appeared to be little if no social distancing across British protests, with experts fearing a surge in cases amid a pandemic that has already claimed more than 40,000 lives across the UK.

Protesters take to the streets of major European cities

A rally in Rome’s sprawling People’s Square was noisy but peaceful, with the majority of protesters wearing masks.

Among those present was 26-year-old Ghanaian Abdul Nassir, who is studying for a master’s in business management at one of the Italian capital’s public universities.

“It’s quite unfortunate, you know, in this current 21st century that people of colour are being treated as if they are lepers,” Mr Nassir said.

He said he occasionally had felt racist attitudes, most notably when riding the subway.

Protesters pictured in Milan on Sunday. Source: AP

At one point, the protesters, most of them young and some with children or siblings, took the knee and raised a fist in solidarity with those fighting racism and police brutality.

In Italy’s financial capital, Milan, a few thousand protesters gathered in a square outside the central train station on Sunday afternoon. Many in the crowd were migrants or children of migrants of African origin.

In Spain, several thousand protesters gathered on the streets of Barcelona and at the US Embassy in Madrid.

People gather in Barcelona on Sunday amid a wave of protests globally fighting racial injustice. Source: AP

Many in Madrid carried homemade signs reading “Black Lives Matter”, “Human rights for all” and “Silence is pro-racist”.

“We are not only doing this for our brother George Floyd,” Thimbo Samb, a spokesman for the group that organised the events in Spain mainly through social media, said.

“Here in Europe, in Spain, where we live, we work, we sleep and pay taxes, we also suffer racism.”

Australia protests divide opinion

Large protests were brought to the streets of Melbourne and Sydney on Saturday, with thousands ignoring public safety warnings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Victoria and NSW have been the worst hit states since the outbreak began however the latter has been free of known community transmission for 10 days.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann called those partaking in the Black Lives Matter protests were “incredibly self-indulgent”.

Labor MP Linda Burney responded to Mr Cormann’s comments, suggesting his state of WA is part of the problem of police brutality against aboriginal citizens, saying he needs to “look at what the reality is in the state that he represents”.

“I spoke publicly, as did many others in the Labor Party and across the board, about people being clear about what the health issues were and what the legal issues were with the protests yesterday,” she said Sunday.

“But I also understand the anguish, the frustration and the anger that people are experiencing. I think many people saw the issue of death in custody as something that is important to speak out about now in Australia."

On Monday morning, Mr Cormann doubled down on his remarks when appearing on Channel Nine’s Today show.

"I think there's got to be a reality check here... right now, in the middle of a pandemic, to pursue these sorts of mass gatherings is completely reckless and irresponsible,’ he said.

with AP

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