Protests sparked by the death of African-American man George Floyd in the hands of police, and in solidarity with the ‘Black Lives Matter movement’ in Australia and the world, took place in metropolitan cities and regional towns across the country on Saturday.
Many members of the Greek Australian community also joined in the calls against police violence and racism suffered by Indigenous Australians.
Syndey had reportedly the biggest turnout but large crowds also gathered in Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide.
Sydney’s protest also stood out for another reason having been deemed illegal up to 12 minutes before it was due to start.
On Friday, the NSW Supreme Court issued a ruling against giving permission to the rally based on public health grounds, but an appeal by the organisers was successful with the ban overturned by the NSW Court of Appeal just before 3pm on Saturday afternoon.
Three people were arrested by NSW Police, but the protest in line with those in other major cities were largely peaceful, with protesters taking down to the streets with face masks and hand sanitisers, and organisers distributing items of protective equipment to anyone who needed them.
In Melbourne, significant efforts were made to ensure social distancing, however Victoria Police plans to still go ahead with fining rally organisers $1652 each, citing breach of the Chief Health Officer’s directions.
The COVID-19 risk was the reason behind calls from the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Premiers and other officials urging the public to abstain from the protests.
“For all of those Australians who couldn’t attend the funeral of a family member, or couldn’t see a loved one in a nursing home, or a veteran who couldn’t remember their fallen colleagues by attending a war memorial service on Anzac Day, I think all Australians owe all those other Australians a great degree of responsibility,” Mr. Morrison had said during a media conference on Friday, at a time when hundreds of protesters had gathered outside Parliament House in Canberra.
“I say to [protesters]: don’t go.”
But people in favour of the rallies have argued the right to protest is “essential” in the face of injustices endured by Indigenous Australians from authorities, while others stated that protesters were in fact abiding to physical distancing as opposed to gatherings of other undisputed social activities.
Stance towards the protests has also varied from state to state, with SA authorities for example issuing an exemption for the legality of a gathering that exceeds the current limit of 80 people, citing a “one-off, unique situation”.
“This is a unique and extraordinary event. There is a sentiment that suggests people should have a right to protest on significant matters. We acknowledge that,” SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said.