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Hundreds protest black deaths in custody in Sydney

There was almost no police presence at today's rally, in stark contrast to recent months.

Around 250 people including First Nations families gathered today at Djarrbarrgali (the Domain) for a socially-distanced rally on unceded Gadigal land. The rally was called in response to the ever-growing number of Aboriginal deaths in custody, and coincided with the start of the NSW Parliamentary inquiry on the matter.

The rally was co-MCed by Gumbaynggirr, Dunghutti and Bundjalung woman Lizzie Jarrett – a relation of David Dungay Jnr – and organiser Paddy Gibson. Other speakers included Leetona Dungay, mother of David Dungay Jnr, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service Karly Warner, co-founder of Deadly Connections Keenan Mundine, and Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts.

The protest opened with an acknowledgment of country from Taressa Mongta, who went on to condemn police repression of recent protests, stating “we are allowed to speak, and we are allowed to stand up and support a mission as important as this.”

Leetona Dungay spoke second, labelling the incarceration of Indigenous people a “death sentence not a prison sentence”. 

Jarrett then read a statement from the family of Nathan Reynolds expressing solidarity with attendees present and First Nations families. Aboriginal man Nathan Reynolds died in custody. The coronial inquest is ongoing. 

Organisers also read a statement of solidarity with the Walpiri people, who are currently waiting to hear whether or not police officer Zach Rolfe, who shot and killed Kumanyaji Walker in Alice Springs last year, will stand trial for murder.

In response to recent police repression of the right to protest, Paddy Gibson asserted that “these rallies have always been authorised by the sovereign people of these lands”. 

Jarrett closed the rally with a rousing speech, centring the lived experiences of black women in Australia and condemning the failure of successive governments to address Indigenous deaths in custody. Since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody finished 29 years ago, there has been roughly one Aboriginal death in custody per month. 

This is the first major protest to be held in Sydney since the NSW government updated the public health order last week to allow outdoor protests of up to 500 people, although it had already been built before the change.

There was almost no police presence at today’s protest, with only one or two police vehicles that had left by the rally’s conclusion. This is in stark contrast to heavily-policed rallies in Sydney in recent weeks, including the last BLM protest on 28 July, which police shut down immediately, detaining organiser Paddy Gibson and following activist groups through the CBD for as long as half an hour after the rally had ended.