Australia hosted some of the largest Black Lives Matter rallies in the world this weekend, with tens of thousands peacefully protesting against racist violence by police.
Defying advice from the Prime Minister and police orders in some cities to stay home, crowds of activists in respiratory masks gathered in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Adelaide, as well as smaller cities and towns.
Members of the LGBTIQ community and other allies joined First Nations people at the protests.
Protesters pepper sprayed
In Sydney, where the rally turnout was estimated at up to 30,000 people, police have defended their actions in corralling protesters into Central Station before pepper spraying at least five people.
Acting New South Wales Police Commissioner Mal Lanyon claimed several people were behaving “aggressively and inciting police”, ABC News has reported.
“Police attempted to quell the situation and move those persons on,” Lanyon said.
“One of the males chose to act aggressively towards police at which time he was placed under arrest.
“Subsequent to that arrest and because of the ongoing violence of the persons that were there, [pepper] spray was deployed to actually curb that violence and the potential of it.”
The incident is reportedly under investigation.
Several arrests included a 15-year-old boy.
Protesters in attendance claimed the rally was peaceful and reported that police forced them into the train station before deploying pepper spray unprovoked.
Smaller protests included Byron Bay, where around 2,000 people gathered to listen to speakers on racism and demand change.
“When you hear the stories, it just breaks your heart,” said attendee Kimmy.
“We need to start these conversations with people.
“We need to call out racism, do our own research, and start teaching our friends and talking about it – not wait for Black people to do it for us.”
Black Lives Matter protests are set to continue around Australia, internationally, and online, bringing attention to racist violence and police abuse of Black people.
The international surge in the movement follows the latest high-profile incident in the United States, the police murder of George Floyd.
In Australia, more than 400 Aboriginal people have died in police custody in the last three decades, with no police ever convicted.
Next weekend, thousands of people are expected at Perth’s Black Lives Matter rally, WA Today has reported.
It will be held on Saturday 13 June at Hyde Park.
Premier Mark McGowan said on Sunday that he would not ban the event for fear of encouraging more people to attend.
“The more someone like me tries to stop the rally, the more likely it will go ahead and be bigger,” McGowan said.
Activists everywhere have been faced with the choice between publicly rallying and staying home to prevent the potential spread of coronavirus.
Those who are sick or at risk of severe illness from the virus are urged to stay home.
People attending rallies have been advised to wear respiratory masks, wash or sanitise hands frequently, and maintain a space of at least 1.5 metres from others if possible.
As well as protesting, people wanting to support Black community activism in Australia have been urged to contact Aboriginal-led organisations to volunteer their efforts or make donations.