'Hell of an image': Mounted police deployed to protect Sydney statue

Mounted police were seen surrounding a statue of Captain Cook during a peaceful demonstration on Friday night in Sydney.

Around 600 officers were deployed to the city’s CBD, some of which were riding horses.

Some 300 demonstrators took to the streets, braving the cold and wet to protest against Aboriginal deaths in police custody.

Protesters chanted "black lives matter" and "not enough justice, too many coppers" while marching through Hyde Park.

The peaceful action was relatively brief, with police forming a perimeter around the Captain Cook statue as marshals began calling for people to disperse, go home and stay safe.

The “high visibility” police operation was “to ensure the safety of the community and the participants”, according to NSW Police.

“General duties officers from Sydney City Police Area Command and across the Central Metropolitan Region were assisted by specialist police from the Public Order and Riot Squad, ODIN, Police Transport Command, Traffic and Highway Patrol Command and the Mounted and Dog Unit,” NSW Police said in a statement.

Some 600 police officers were in Sydney's CBD last night, while 300 protesters took to the streets. Source: AAP

On Friday night, one woman was issued a fine for disobeying a move-on direction at the protest.

Police have warned they will once again be out in force on Saturday, if protesters go ahead with a prohibited rally in Sydney’s CBD.

The NSW Supreme Court earlier this week prohibited the "free the refugees" protest scheduled for Saturday afternoon on the basis the health risks "outweigh the rights of public assembly and free speech" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But Refugee Action Coalition organiser James Supple said they were still planning to hold the rally following Justice Michael Walton's ruling on Thursday.

He urged attendees to observe social distancing measures and health guidelines.

"I again issue the same advice to anyone who thinks that they can come into the city and engage in an unauthorised public gathering: Do not do it," Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing told reporters on Friday.

Protesters holding placards are seen during a Stop Black Deaths in Custody: Solidarity with Long Bay Prisoners vigil at Sydney Town Hall in Sydney on Friday. Source: AAP

"We will have sufficient resources, the same as we had tonight, out on the ground and will take whatever action we need to take to ensure that the COVID health order is applied by and that the community is kept safe."

NSW Police top brass have warned attendees can be moved on, potentially arrested or fined $1000.

Statues scrutinised and torn down amid protests

International Black Lives Matter protests have led to the removal of many statues linked to slavery, however, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told those calling for the removal of statues of James Cook to “get a grip”.

Mr Morrison also claimed Australia does not have a history of slavery.

"Australia when it was founded as a settlement, as NSW, was on the basis that there'd be no slavery,” he told 3AW radio on Thursday.

"It was a pretty brutal place, but there was no slavery in Australia."

However, Australia does have a history of forced labour and stolen wages of Aboriginal people, which lasted until the 1970s.

Indigenous Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy said the prime minister's comments demonstrated a very selective understanding of Australia's history.

Black lives matter protesters march next to a covered statue of Winston Churchill in London. Source: EPA

Demonstrations across the globe have been observed in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police.

In London, a statue of Winston Churchill has been bordered up after it was vandalised with the words “Was a racist”.

“Yes, he sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today, but he was a hero, and he fully deserves his memorial,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of Churchill.

Last week in Bristol in western England, demonstrators tore down a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston.

In the US, protesters in Virginia toppled a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Richmond's famed Monument Avenue.

Prior to that a statue of Christopher Columbus in Richmond was torn down by protesters, set on fire and then submerged in a lake.

Protesters beheaded and then pulled down four statues that were part of a Confederate monument. Source: The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam last week ordered the removal of an iconic statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, which is four blocks away from where the Davis statue stood.

A judge on Monday issued an injunction preventing officials from removing the monument for the next 10 days.

A statue of Captain John Hamilton has been taken down in New Zealand - not by Black Lives Matter protesters, but by the council.

Across Belgium, statues of Leopold II have been defaced in half a dozen cities because of the king’s brutal rule over the Congo, where more than a century ago he forced multitudes into slavery to extract rubber, ivory and other resources for his own profit. Experts say he left as many as 10 million dead.

“The Germans would not get it into their head to erect statues of Hitler and cheer them,” said Mireille-Tsheusi Robert, an activist in Congo who wants Leopold statues removed from Belgian cities.

“For us, Leopold has committed a genocide.”

Scott Sandage, a historian at Carnegie Mellon University, noted that Americans have a long tradition of arguing over monuments and memorials.

He recalled the bitter debate over the now-beloved Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington when the design was unveiled.

“Removing a memorial doesn’t erase history. It makes new history,” Sandage said.

“And that’s always happening, no matter whether statues go up, come down, or not.”

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