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George Floyd death: Mass rallies in Australia for Black Lives Matter

Thousands protest in Sydney. Organisers urged attendees to try to observe social distancingImage copyright EPA
Image caption Thousands protest in Sydney. Organisers urged attendees to try to observe social distancing

Tens of thousands of people have been protesting across Australia in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The marches were inspired by the death of African American George Floyd in police custody.

However, protesters were also highlighting the mistreatment and marginalisation of Australia’s Aboriginal people.

Protesters were ready to defy a ban in Sydney but it was overturned at the last minute by a court of appeal.

Rallies have also been organised in Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide and elsewhere.

They have been in high spirits with no reports of unrest.

Although the rallies were sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, many in Australia were also protesting against the treatment of its indigenous population by police.

Banners reading “I can’t breathe” remembered the words of Floyd before his death, while another said: “Same story, different soil.”

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Most of the protesters, including here in Melbourne, were wearing face masks
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption There were massive crowds too in Brisbane

The Sydney protest had been ruled unlawful on Friday by the New South Wales Supreme Court under coronavirus social distancing rules.

NSW Police Minister David Elliott had said: “Freedom of speech isn’t as free as we would like it to be at the moment. Rules at the moment are clear.”

But organisers took the case to the state court of appeal and it overturned the ban on Saturday afternoon, just 15 minutes before the scheduled start.

The protest was authorised for 5,000 people. Health ministry directions would normally prohibit public gatherings of more than 10 people.

Organisers across Australia encouraged those attending rallies to use hand sanitisers and observe social distancing.

Images showed that although the majority of demonstrators have been wearing face coverings, many of the protesters have been close together.

The chief health official in the state of Victoria said it was “not the time to be having large gatherings” and police have threatened to fine organisers and those breaking social distancing rules.

Image copyright Getty Images

Protesters chanted: “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land,” and “Too many coppers not enough justice”.

Leon Saunders, 77, demonstrating in Sydney, said: “The raw deal Aborigines have been getting in this country for my lifetime and many lifetimes before that is just not right.

“We can look at America and say what terrible things are happening over there but, right here on our home soil, there are just as bad things happening and they need to be improved.”

A 1991 inquiry reported on 99 deaths of Aboriginal people in police custody, but a Guardian study found that at least 432 had died in custody since then.

Another protester in Sydney, Sarah Keating, said: “I thought Australians were resting on their laurels – just because we’re not as bad as America doesn’t mean we’re good enough… 432 Aboriginal deaths in custody is atrocious. That number should never have gotten that high. It should just be zero.”

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Media captionDonors pay debts of jailed Aboriginal women

No police officer has ever been held criminally responsible for an Aboriginal death in custody.

Indigenous people comprise almost 30% of Australian inmates but less than 3% of the national population, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Many of the demonstrators in Brisbane were wrapped in indigenous flags.

More on George Floyd’s death

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