Thousands in Australia defy social distancing rules to rally against racism

Demonstrators gather in Sydney on June 6 to protest the death of George Floyd. (AP pic)

MELBOURNE: Tens of thousands of Australians rallied on Saturday in solidarity with US protesters angered by the death of a black man in police custody, after authorities in one area lifted a ban on the gatherings under the country’s social-distancing rules.

A last-minute appeal at the New South Wales Court of Appeal allowed a rally in Sydney, where several thousand people marched among heavy police presence, chanting, “Whose lives matter? Black Lives matter.”

Inspired by the death of George Floyd – who died in Minneapolis after a white policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes – Australians were also calling all for an end to police mistreatment of indigenous Australians.

The protests came despite earlier urging from authorities to stay home and obey social-distancing rules imposed to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

These allow only for small groups to gather outside.

After the court ruling, the New South Wales police urged people via Twitter to “keep a safe physical distance,” saying they were there to “facilitate” people’s movement.

In the US on Friday, prominent Democratic politicians adopted the slogans of the nationwide protests and announced reforms, as tensions remained high in major cities after days of largely peaceful protests that saw sporadic violence.

More than 10,000 people rallied in Brisbane, according to police estimates, with many protesters wrapped in indigenous flags.

Many protesters wore black masks with handwritten “I can’t breathe” signs on them – Floyd’s last words, which have become a rallying cry worldwide for the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

In Melbourne, more than 5,000 people gathered, where organisers reading out a long list of names of indigenous Australians killed either by police or who died in police custody.

“We don’t want anything that’s going to take away from our message that Black Lives Matter,” Sue Ann Hunter, a member of the Wurundjeri Aboriginal nation, told ABC News.