By MIKE HITCH
Hundreds of Sydney residents attended the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest in Hyde Park on Tuesday, following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers in the United States.
The protest, organised by the Australian Communist Party and grassroots Indigenous activists, also fought back at issues closer to home, with attendees also protesting Australia’s long and shameful history of Indigenous deaths in police custody.
Face-masked protestors peacefully gathered in the centre of Hyde Park at 5 pm in the chilly afternoon, later marching to NSW Parliament House and then Martin Place while chanting: “Always will be Aboriginal Land!” “Black Lives Matter!” and “Too many coppers, not enough justice!”
Indigenous activist, representative from the Australian Communist Party and co-organiser of the quickly-created demonstration, Keiran Stewart-Assheton, made clear that the police brutality displayed in America was also happening in our own backyard.
“Thank you all for coming and showing solidarity today. I’ve seen first-hand, the violence and destruction that this government has inflicted on our people, our family and our community,” he said through a megaphone as the crowd grew into the hundreds.
“So we are gathered here today to stand in solidarity with the demonstrations that are being carried out in the USA, that were sparked by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of brutal and racist police.”
The protestors were quick to respond unanimously with: “Shame!”
“We understand that this demonstration has come as a result of the institutionalised racism within the United States Government, and their judicial system,” Stewart-Assheton continued. “Everywhere we look, we see the same struggle of Indigenous people, and displaced minorities, being abused at the hands of law enforcement.
“Here in Australia, our police and corrective services personal, are responsible for the murder of Indigenous Australians at higher rates than what we’ve seen anywhere else in the world.
“Our children are so much more likely to be incarcerated, that at certain points over the last few years, they have made up 100 per cent of the juvenile justice population in states like the Northern Territory.
“In the last 29 years, we’ve had over 430 deaths [in custody]. The rates have increased every year.”
One woman called out: “This is fucking bullshit!”
Global civil unrest has spread from the US to the UK and Australia, with hundreds also protesting peacefully in Perth’s CBD on Monday evening.
This unrest over police injustice began a week ago on Monday May 25, when 46-year-old George Floyd died at the hands of now-fired police officer, Derek Chauvin. Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck while he pinned him to the ground, despite Floyd’s calls that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd eventually stopped moving before Chauvin removed his knee.
One week later, protests have sparked across the globe, with New York City and Washington DC becoming hotspots for both peaceful and violent acts of protest.
David Dungay – also suffocated
However, many at Sydney’s demonstration focussed on Australia’s mirrored attitude towards its own Indigenous and Black populations – drawing haunting comparisons between Floyd, and the 2015 death of a Dunghutti man, David Dungay Jr, in a Sydney prison.
Both Floyd and 26-year-old Dungay died while being physically restrained by officers, and repeatedly exclaimed: “I can’t breathe.”
Dungay died in Long Bay prison hospital in 2015 after being forcibly moved to an observation cell, restrained face down, and sedated.
A co-organiser of Sydney’s ‘Black Lives Matter Protest’ and 16-year-old grassroots Indigenous activist, Elizabeth Dries, told City Hub that these protests provide a chance to highlight the awful reality that Australia’s police brutality is no different from America’s.
“It needed to be done. It’s the time to really make a change,” she said. “A lot of Australians are very blind with what actually happens with Aboriginal people in custody, and deaths as well. Not a lot of people know the statistics. Not a lot of people honestly care. I think a lot of Aboriginals are pushed to the side.
“It’s so hidden. The media never does any coverage on it, and this happens a lot more than anyone thinks, and it’s never spoken about. That’s wrong. Awareness for these tragedies that are happening all around Australia is so important. Only a handful of charges are made against officers that commit these offences. We just really want to make that push and really spread awareness about what’s really happening in our country.”
During the protest, many held up makeshift signs made from cardboard and confectionary boxes, while others removed their facemasks to throw their voices louder.
One protestor who identified himself as the Undergraduate SRC Indigenous Officer for the University of Sydney, Leroy Fernando, dressed head-to-toe in black and carried a heavy-duty gas-mask.
Fernando believes that the global response, and the response within Australia, is starting to shift the narrative surrounding societies complacency towards institutionalised racism.
Fernando also noted that while this outrage is just the beginning, these demonstrations shed hope that injustices against Indigenous and Black people will no longer be tolerated – even by a society founded upon colonisation and genocide of First Nations Australians.
“This protest is important because while it’s seen as a ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest, it’s also about Indigenous deaths in custody,” Fernando told City Hub.
“It’s important to come out despite the threats of brutality or COVID. Honestly, as most protests go, our message will fall on some deaf ears. But that’s not the point. The point is about bringing awareness, and bringing solidarity for George Floyd and all Indigenous people who go through these injustices.
‘The best part is that once it goes through this dialogue and discourse, people will be able to see how entrenched this racism is in our own legal and correctional systems.
“Black Lives Matter is an important protest, but the most important thing to remember is that the focus is on people like David Dungay and George Floyd, who are the victims of your institutionalised racism.
“We’re fighting for Australians, and we’re fighting for all people. We can’t turn a blind eye anymore to police brutality, oppression and marginalisation.”
We at City Hub and Star Observer dedicate this piece to those who have died at the hands of police brutality. These injustices, and the complacency that has allowed them to become a tragic piece of our history, is, and always will be, wrong.
This article also appears in Star Observer magazine, which, like City Hub newspaper, is a part of AltMedia publishing.