Over 1000 people gathered in Hyde Park tonight to protest police brutality, in solidarity with protesters in the US and black and Indigenous victims of police violence in Australia. Following the murder of unarmed black man George Floyd in Minneapolis eight days ago, demonstrations of anger, grief and solidarity have erupted around the world, with tonight’s being the first protest in Sydney.
As a crowd of mostly young protesters filed in to perhaps the largest gathering the city has seen in months, Gadigal man Tristan Field told the rally that initially met at Hyde Park: “we need a huge upheaval right now.”
“We need to stop black people dying in this country and around the world because it is just unjust.”
The rally then moved between NSW Parliament and the bottom of Martin Place. Though demonstrating peacefully and following social distancing guidelines, protesters refused to disperse as the event came to its official conclusion earlier than expected. Impromptu speeches from young activists seized on the uncertainty.
In between speeches were chants of “I can’t breathe”, mirroring the final words of both George Floyd and David Dungay Jr – a 26-year-old Dunghutti man from Kempsey who was killed in police custody in 2015 in the same circumstances. This focus on Indigenous deaths in custody here in Australia, as much as police brutality overseas, has characterised Australian protests so far – including an action in Perth on Monday evening, as well as a vigil planned for Saturday afternoon in Sydney.
Widely shared figures from the Guardian place the number of Indigenous people in Australia who have been killed in police custody at 432 since 1991, with the rate of incarceration for Aboriginal people in Australia being higher than that of black people in the US. Over a quarter of all people in Australian prisons are Indigenous, despite making up only three percent of the overall population.
There was a significant police presence throughout the protest, with mounted officers and the riot squad blocking off Martin Place at each end as the crowd spilled past the US embassy. Some activists led displays of solidarity, including kneeling in front of the line of police horses and laying on the ground face-down, as the crowd continued to call for justice behind them.
The few moments of tension between demonstrators and police were diffused by the overwhelming presence of cameras – from protesters, the media, and legal observers – and the sense that undoubtedly, the world was watching.
The next action is a vigil scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 3pm, and is being co-hosted by the Anticolonial Asian Alliance, the Indigenous Social Justice Association, and the USyd Autonomous Collective Against Racism.