Huge crowds marched Saturday in Black Lives Matter demonstrations across Australia, including in Sydney where a Supreme Court decision banning the protest was overturned at the last minute.
The rallies were held to draw attention to Aboriginal deaths in police custody and in solidarity with widespread demonstrations in the United States.
Thousands of people turned out in Brisbane and Adelaide, with even larger crowds in the more populous cities of Melbourne and Sydney, after the New South Wales (NSW) State Court of Appeal ruled in favour of authorising the Sydney protest.
On Friday organizers in Sydney were told the event could not go ahead due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19, however a large number of people made their intention to attend the demonstration, despite risking arrest if they did.
Minutes before the demonstration was scheduled to begin, and after a large crowd had already gathered, the news came through that the protest would be considered lawful, with police aiming to accommodate the demonstrators while maintaining peace.
Most of the protesters wore masks and volunteers distributed hand sanitiser throughout the crowds, however with such large numbers of people, recommended social distancing was difficult to maintain.
While the death of George Floyd and occurrences in the United States were the clear catalyst for the demonstrations, the focus was largely on the treatment of Australia’s First Nations Peoples, mainly police brutality and an inflated number of deaths in custody.
Since 1991, 432 First Nations Peoples have died while in the custody of police, according to data from the Guardian. One of them, 26-year-old Dunghutti man David Dungay, passed away in 2015 while being restrained by five officers despite repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.”
Members of Dungay’s family who were in attendance in Sydney, expressed their shock and grief at the similarities between his death and that of George Floyd in the United States, but said they were heartened by the significant amount of support on display.
“I look around and see so many signs and so many faces — it’s overwhelming,” Dungay’s nephew told the crowd.
One of the protesters in Sydney, Alyssia Gibbs told Xinhua that she had been to similar demonstrations in the past and would continue to do so as long as it took to achieve justice for Indigenous Australians.
“No one’s going to listen to you if you’re just posting on social media. If you get thousands of people in the same place chanting the same thing with the same message, people will listen,” Gibbs said.
While the demonstrations were largely peaceful, tensions briefly flared on the steps of Sydney’s Town Hall after a counter-protester took to the stage wielding a sign reading All Lives Matter, drawing the anger of the crowd before he was arrested by police.
At 4:32 p.m. local time, thousands of demonstrators in Sydney knelt and observed a minute of silence in recognition of the 432 Aboriginal deaths in police custody, and the international Black Lives Matter movement.