Thousands of Australians took to streets to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement on Saturday, inspired by the death of George Floyd in police custody in the US. The rallies were held despite the warning from the authorities.
At the last minute, the ban was lifted in Sydney. Some organizers have also been fined for breaking the rules. Though the march was inspired by the death of Floyd in Minneapolis, Australians also highlighted the marginalization and mistreatment of the country’s Aboriginal people.
Demonstrations and rallies were held in Melbourne, Hobart, Brisbane, Adelaide, and elsewhere. All the rallies were held with high spirits and no reports of any major clash or unrest. However, later in the evening, there were a few intense scenes in Sydney’s Central Station, where police made arrests and fired pepper spray.
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Many people also came out to protest the treatment of Australia’s indigenous population by police. Protesters carried the banners reading ‘’I can’t breathe’’, remembering the last words of Floyd to register their protest. While another said, “Same story, different soil.”
On Friday, the New South Wales had ruled protests as unlawful under coronavirus social distancing restrictions. David Elliott, the New South Wales Police Minister, said, “Freedom of speech isn’t as free as we would like it to be at the moment.’’
However, later Saturday afternoon, the state court of appeal overturned the ban after the organizers took the case there. Its judgment came just 15 minutes before the scheduled start. Usually, under the social distancing restrictions, the health ministry would allow gathering of no more than ten people, but the Saturday protests were authorized for 5,000 people.
The organizers of rallies encouraged the participants to use hand sanitizers and observe social distancing recommendations. But the images from the rallies showed not many people observed social distancing. The health officer of the state of Victoria said that it was not the right time to organize rallies.
On Saturday, Victoria police said that they would be fining organizers $1,150 each for breaking the health restrictions. However, it is still unclear whether the Melbourne rally organizers would also be fined.
An inquiry conducted in 1991, reported a total of 99 deaths of Aboriginal people in police custody. But later a Guardian study found that at least 432 more have died since then.
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