Despite the implemented social distancing restrictions by Australian leaders, tens of thousands of Australians across the country marched in solidarity with the traditional custodians of the land to protest the unjust homicide of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the many indigenous deaths in custody.
Immense crowds gathered in Sydney, despite facing resistance as the New South Wales supreme court ruled the demonstration to be unlawful under the current Covid-19 restrictions. The organisers of the Sydney’s Black Lives Matter protest later had their appeal declared only minutes prior to the scheduled rally, in spite of the protesters having every intention to go ahead with the protest regardless of their decision.
Leetona Dungay, whose son David died in custody at Long Bay Correctional Complex after shouting “I can’t breathe”, said she would be marching in Sydney regardless of the court’s approval – “I am marching for my son and nothing is stopping me”. The court’s last minute decision to approve the demonstration was received with cheers and chants by the crowd at Town Hall.
The demonstration drew attention to the police brutality and racial profiling oppressing the black and indigenous communities, with justice being sought for the 432 deaths since 1991 that have occurred in custody, and many others undocumented. In Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, other cities and smaller towns across the country (in spite of the state governments urging social distancing), crowds gathered donning face masks; with many organisers supplying and offering hand sanitisers.
With a strong police presence in Melbourne, the protest was deemed peaceful, with the mass chanting slogans such as “no justice no peace”, “Black Lives Matter” and “defund the police”. Led by the Wurundjeri leaders, with one speaker shouting to the crowd: “We all bleed red because we are human”.
In Melbourne, the Wurundjeri senior elder Aunty Diane Kerr began the rally, followed by a chant led by the Wurundjeri woman Mandy Nicholson. With a performance from the African Australian artist Sampa the Great, who performed two songs and yielded “Black lives matter, because I woke up black today and I am going to wake up black tomorrow”. The energy was enchanting, with the protest beginning at Parliament steps moving as the crowd marched on Bourke street towards Swanston Street and other speakers continued to address the crowd.
The Black Lives Matter movement has received succour globally with the current climate deeming it as a “glorious poetic rage”, with many rising to speak up against the injustice within the systems and demanding to see change; alongside many others implying that racism hasn’t gotten worse, but simply getting filmed. “The reason this got so big is because it has been happening,” said Junauda Petrus-Nasah to The New York Times this week, an organizer from Minneapolis where Mr. Floyd lived and was killed. The urgency and need of the movement has shown with millions of people declaring their solidarity both online and offline. With the protest in the United States now exceeding 10 days, it has been deemed the biggest collective demonstration of civil unrest toward state violence in our generation’s memory.
The death of George Floyd that occurred on May 25th has sparked anger within black communities across the globe, however only moving to highlight what the black individual has endured on a daily basis since the beginning of colonisation. In the midst of a global pandemic that has shown to greatly specifically impact these communities, it is to be expected with prior months of lockdown as the emotional rage can only be amplified. Many in America feel the death of George Floyd and following protests have simply lit a powder keg of pain and systemic injustice that has been building larger and larger for decades.
With the men accused of the homicide of George Floyd in custody, we are only reminded that we still have a long way to go. Protesters have been turning their heads toward other cases redolent of Floyd, such as Breanna Taylor – a 27 year old African American emergency medical worker, who was shot dead by police storming her home – as she slept while searching for a suspect who was already in custody. This is only the beginning of a seemingly never ending list of victims – a list made all the more horrifying in the cases it excludes too.
As we continue to mourn, we must also continue to fight the fight that won’t ever end until systemic justice is restored. Black lives matter.