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Thousands March in Australia Anti-Racism Rallies

A small group of protesters march in Sydney, Saturday, June 13, 2020, during a day of demonstrations across Australia in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and refugee rights. Protesters in Sydney, Adelaide and Perth were urged to stay away…

Black Lives Matter protests attracted large crowds in Australia on Saturday in defiance of government warnings about the coronavirus. The marches have been inspired by mass gatherings in the United States following the death in police custody of George Floyd.

Across Australia, thousands of anti-racism demonstrators rallied against high rates of indigenous incarceration, deaths in custody and the removal of indigenous children from their families. Aboriginal Australians make up about 3 percent of the population but almost a third of prison inmates are indigenous.

“We are here to support our future as indigenous people and to walk against injustices of what happened to our people,” one aboriginal woman said.

In Perth, Western Australia, protesters defied calls by the authorities Saturday not to attend because of coronavirus fears. Organizers handed out masks and hand sanitizer.

An earlier march in Sydney was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court on public health grounds, but hundreds of people joined the protest.

“I am here because there have been 437 deaths in custody since 1991,” a protester in Sydney said. “So I am here to make a stand, and I do not care that the government has said this is illegal.”

New South Wales Assistant Police Commissioner Mick Willing was not happy protesters had ignored coronavirus health orders.

“It is disappointing to acknowledge that around 300 people chose to ignore the warnings that had been given by police in terms of coming to this public gathering,” he said.

There have been separate rallies in Australia by groups protesting the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.

The government had urged demonstrators to stay home because of concerns that mass gatherings could spread the coronavirus, which has been mostly contained in Australia.

Two women were arrested after a statue of the British explorer, Captain James Cook, was defaced in Sydney. Another was damaged in Perth. However, Peter Dutton, Australia’s Home Affairs minister, criticized calls to remove statues of European colonists in Australia as an “obscure left-wing cause.”

This year has marked the 250th anniversary of Cook's voyage to Australia. British settlement would begin 17 years later.

Historical monuments across the world have been torn down in recent weeks by anti-racism campaigners following the death of George Floyd, an African American man, in U.S. police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last month.