DPA / Canberra
Protesters gathered in the Australian capital Canberra yesterday in support of the global Black Lives Matter movement, and to protest high levels of Aboriginal incarceration and death in custody.
Protesters gathered at Garema Place to show solidarity with demonstrations across the United States sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died at the hands of police officers.
Demonstrators called for police around the world to stop targeting minorities, chanted slogans and held up banners and placards, with text reading “Silence is deadly” and “Aboriginal Lives Matter.” Aboriginal elder Matilda House asked the crowd to “send a message to the government” about Aboriginal deaths in custody, incarceration, and racism in Australia.
“Aboriginal men and women have been taken from our lives and not once has it ever been explained, and they and all of us still can’t breathe,” she said. “We still can’t breathe.” Tove Chepkorir, 22, a Kenyan-Danish tourist stuck in Australia due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, said authorities worldwide need to “change the way they look at people of colour.”
“I was just tired. I spoke in this rally because how many times are we supposed to look at videos of black bodies dropping due to police violence?” Chepkorir told DPA after addressing the crowd. “Enough is enough. It’s not OK.”
Tamara Ryan, one of the organisers, estimated more than 2,000 people participated in the rally. After the speeches, the crowd walked some four kilometres to protest in front of Parliament House. Floyd’s death in Minneapolis has sparked 10 days of unrest across the United States, as protesters demand an end to police brutality against African-Americans, revealing pent up anger over racism and heavy-handed law enforcement.
Bigger protests and rallies are planned in all major cities across Australia for Saturday. However, the police, local authorities, and politicians have asked Australians not to participate over fears of spreading coronavirus.
“I say to them: ‘Don’t go’,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Friday.”It’s not a good idea to go.” “It is important for people to have their right to protest ... but with those liberties come great responsibility,” he said. “People need to express their peaceful thoughts, their deeply held thoughts and concerns, online,” Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told reporters in Canberra.
The government of New South Wales, the state of which Sydney is the capital, has moved to quash the rally in court, with police putting limits on how many people are allowed to attend. If the Supreme Court rules on Friday in favour of the protest it can go ahead with 500 attendees. Otherwise, it will be limited to 10. “I’m asking, appealing and pleading with those thousands of people who’ve indicated they’re turning up to a protest -- please, do not do it. Stay at home,” state premier Gladys Berejiklian said. “Express yourself in a different way.”
State police commissioner Mick Fuller said police can give people a direction to leave if the allowed number is exceeded. “If they refuse, we can arrest them, or arrest them and give them a caution or a court attendance notice, or a $1,000 fine ... If we are put in the corner tomorrow, we will make arrests,” he said. Adelaide city will hold a protest after the South Australian government granted an exemption on limits on groups for the weekend rally.
Perth in Western Australia, Hobart in Tasmania, Melbourne in Victoria and Brisbane in Queensland will also hold rallies, even though the respective state governments have warned about social distancing restrictions. In Australia, Indigenous youth remain massively over-represented in the justice system and were 22 times more likely to be in detention or justice supervision, according to a government report last month.
Also, Indigenous Australians make up 27% of the prison population even though they are just 3% of the country’s total population. According to a 2018 government health report, about 20% of people who died in custody were Indigenous Australians.
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