Protesters have defied warnings from authorities and flooded city streets across the country in a show of support to the Aboriginal community following the death of George Floyd in the United States.
The Sydney rally was initially subject to a Supreme Court decision making it illegal to go ahead, but in an eleventh hour announcement made by organisers on Saturday, the ruling was overturned.
Just thirteen minutes before it was due to commence, the appeal was upheld and NSW police were forced to back down and allow the protest to take place.
The decision was met with huge cheers by crowds already gathered outside Town Hall this afternoon.
It means protesters cannot be arrested for blocking roads along the planned route from Town Hall to Belmore Park.
Just an hour before the Sydney rally was to commence, NSW Police posted to Twitter reminding people the protest was not going ahead due to the Supreme Court ruling.
But a short time later, after the rally was legalised, shared another tweet asking protesters to keep 1.5 metres between each other.
Due to the large crowds, social distancing was not always maintained and despite the courts overruling the NSW police ban, the state's Nationals leader, John Barilaro, said if people breached social distancing rules, they should be arrested.
“How can we have one rule for protesters and a different rule for those who want to go to the footy?,” he told reporters on Saturday.
Other politicians, however, were more sensitive to the protesters' motivations.
“If you are a young black man in Australia, you are more likely to go to jail than university,” federal Labor frontbencher Jason Clare told ABC television Saturday.
A man who displayed a poster reading “All Lives Matter” was verbally abused by members of the crowd in Sydney before being handcuffed and removed by police, ABC News reported.
A number of signs displayed the number 432 – denoting the number of aboriginal deaths in police custody since a 1991 Royal Commission into the matter. There have been no convictions for any of those deaths.
‘Tears of pride streaming down my face’
Marches in major capital cities and some regional towns have taken place already today with thousands turning out in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Wagga Wagga.
The nationwide demonstrations are using the momentum of the George Floyd protests to highlight aboriginal deaths in custody and the need for greater police accountability in Australia.
Photos of thousands of people protesting were shared to Twitter as the event unfolded, with the crowd in Brisbane being described as “incredible” due to its size.
Indigenous woman Dr Tracy Westerman from Western Australia said she had “tears of pride” after seeing images of the thousands of people attending marches.
“Not gonna lie. I have tears of pride streaming down my face watching the size of these crowds in early images from Brisbane & Adelaide for the #blacklivesmatteraustralia marches,” she wrote in a tweet.
“Black & white together saying enough is enough. Thank you Australia.”
Massive crowd in Brisbane hear of police brutality
People packed into inner-city Brisbane to protest police brutality against indigenous Australians and call for justice for those who have died in custody.
Crowds spilled from King George Square to neighbouring blocks, with people packing stairwells and balconies, brandishing signs calling for reform in Queensland and across the globe.
Speakers, including elders and traditional owners, detailed police brutality against members of their own families.
"We rise together and we speak in one voice against racism ... and legislation that takes away our freedom in this country ... our right to have a voice, our right to be free," Wangan and Jagalingou man Adrian Burragubba said.
The Brisbane BLM protest. Incredible. pic.twitter.com/gg8qvOp16a— Sophie Beer - Arthur and the Tiger out NOW! (@sophiebeerdraws) June 6, 2020
There were similar scenes in Melbourne where thousands poured into the heart of the city for its Black Lives Matter rally.
Wurundjeri leaders are leading protesters in mourning for Aboriginal lives lost in police custody at the demonstration held at the Victorian Parliament.
The traditional custodians are expressing solidarity with the US Black Lives Matter movement and the family of George Floyd.
Wurundjeri leaders, whose native land is Melbourne, painted white ochre across their foreheads as a sign of mourning.
“We all bleed red because we are human,” another speaker said, to shouts of support from the crowd.
This will be one for the history books: the Flinders/Swanston St intersection brimming on all sides, with a smoking ceremony in the middle; not a single person in sight not wearing a mask. #blacklivesmatteraustralia @FarragoMagazine pic.twitter.com/vlPIyQX0N3— Finley Tobin (@finley_tobin) June 6, 2020
Protesters are wearing face masks and organisers are offering hand sanitiser, with volunteers reminding protesters to space themselves out.
Authorities had urged people to avoid the mass gathering because of COVID-19 fears.
Victoria Police have warned rally attendees could be fined because of COVID-19 rules, while police in Queensland have said they won’t arrest anyone taking part in the protest.
“While the Black Lives Matter protest was held in breach of the Chief Health Officer directions, police were generally pleased with the behaviour of those who came into the city to protest today,” said Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius.
“As of 5pm, there were no arrests made during the protest and we are not aware of any acts of violence or property damage.”
Meanwhile in Adelaide, police praised the organisers of the march saying it was one of the biggest and well behaved events they had seen.
Absolutely massive crowd in Brisbane - a large percentage wearing face masks - to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Possibly 8,000 to 10,000 have crowded King George Square and two blocks of Ann and Adelaide streets. There has been no problems with police. pic.twitter.com/p8it0qfz6h— Tony Moore (@eastTMoore) June 6, 2020
Crowds turned out in Canberra on Friday, with people pictured displaying large “Black Lives Matter” signs and marching through the city wearing face masks.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced on Saturday a $4 million investment into a range of projects aimed at improving the health of Australia's indigenous people.
“The funding ... will particularly assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and those in the community identified as most at risk of poor health outcomes,” Mr Hunt said in a statement.
Fears of virus transmission at protests
Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said authorities have always feared an outbreak in indigenous communities.
Professor Murphy said that while people had the right to protest, mass gatherings were dangerous in the midst of a pandemic.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also urged Australians not to attend protests.
In South Australia, the state's police commissioner granted permission for a BLM protest to proceed in Adelaide, calling it a “unique and extraordinary” event.
Unity and anti-violence were key themes of a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally in Adelaide as more than 5,000 protesters passionately had their say during a show of solidarity.
Speaker Jack Buckskin, a Kaurna and Narungga man, welcomed the large turnout, telling the gathering whether Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, they were all part of the same society.
“This is about us coming together as people. Today we stand united. Our movement happens with people.”
The protest did garner some criticism online with people labelling attendees “COVIDIOTS” for partaking in the mass gathering during the pandemic.
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