NSW Police are being criticised over the conduct of several officers at Sydney’s Central Station following the Black Lives Matter rally through the city on Saturday.
Confronting images and footage emerged of a confrontation between police and protesters at the station, where witnesses said officers deliberately blocked people after the march.
Members of the crowd were shown being hit with pepper spray, and video captured chanting ringing through the station as protesters found it impossible to maintain any level of social distancing.
At least two officers used pepper spray inside Central station with up to 30 people in the firing line.
Backed by an eleventh-hour Court of Appeal decision legalising the rally, about 20,000 people joined the largely peaceful Black Lives Matter march through the city centre.
Demonstrations also took place in Newcastle, Byron Bay, Lismore, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Wyong, Wagga Wagga and Broken Hill.
Protesters rallied in solidarity with those in the US angered by the death of African-American man George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
They defied warnings from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Australia's chief medical officer not to protest due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In Sydney, protesters waved signs saying "Police the police" and "Same s*** different soil", while the crowd chanted "I can't breathe", the final words uttered by Mr Floyd and 26-year-old Dunghutti man David Dungay Jr.
"They held my son down for 10 minutes," Leetona Dungay said of her son's death in Long Bay jail in 2015.
At 4.32pm demonstrators knelt en masse in Sydney's Belmore Park and held a fist aloft to acknowledge the 432 Aboriginal people who have died in custody since 1991.
Police said protests across the state were mostly peaceful.
Officers tasered a 23-year-old man at Town Hall Railway station after he scuffled with a 15-year-old boy and allegedly became aggressive towards police.
He is expected to be charged with affray, while the boy, who knew the 23-year-old, was given a caution.
A 51-year-old man was also arrested at the rail station and released without charge for allegedly breaching the peace.
I do hope that there will be further investigation of this incident, in which a lady with a disability on crutches has been pepper sprayed by the NSW Police at Central Station pic.twitter.com/hUn4k6Loe9 #auspol #auslaw #blacklivesmatter— Matthew Rimmer (@DrRimmer) June 6, 2020
In one incident, a woman on crutches was among those who was pepper sprayed with footage posted online showing her hurling furious abuse at officers following the incident.
The woman, Jane Margaret Bedford-Heighton, recounted the moment to 7News after she said she was ushered into the train station by police with protesters.
“I wasn’t sure what was going on but when I saw a line of police officers pushing on a line of black protesters I started to get concerned,” he said.
The woman stood between the police and the protesters and yelled “keep your hands off them.” She thought because she was disabled, police would not treat her with undue hostility.
It was then that police allegedly reached over her to push protesters and pepper sprayed her.
“He reached over his shoulder, placed a pepper spray can in front of my face less than 10cm away and blasted it for a few seconds into my eyes,” she told 7News.
A spokesperson fro NSW Police told Yahoo News Australia inquiries into the events following the rally in Sydney were ongoing, saying the pepper spray was in retaliation to an “increasingly aggressive group”.
“A man has been charged with offensive behaviour and resist police following an altercation with officers at Central Railway Station about 6.10pm,” they said in a statement.
“As police attempted to move a group of people through the station after the conclusion of the rally, some individuals reportedly became aggressive.
“When one man allegedly became violent, officers from the Public Order and Riot Squad (PORS) attempted to remove him and a struggle ensued.
“The 21-year-old was arrested and, after the group became increasingly aggressive, OC spray was deployed. Five people were subsequently treated at the scene for the effects of OC spray.
“The man, from Mt Druitt, was taken to Surry Hills Police Station where he has been charged with offensive behaviour and resist police. He’s been granted strict conditional bail to appear in Downing Centre Local Court on Thursday 27 August 2020. Inquiries are continuing."
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said in a statement on Saturday that to have such a small number of people arrested out of a 20,000 strong crowd was “a really positive result”.
The Court of Appeal had declared the Sydney rally an authorised public assembly about 15 minutes before the 3pm start time.
The decision overturned a Supreme Court ruling on Friday night, and gave protesters immunity from arrest for blocking roads.
The judges' reasons are expected to be published early in the week.
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