SYDNEY (AP) — Police challenged whether a Black Lives Matter protest planned for Saturday in Australia’s largest city is too much of a virus risk, as demonstrators in the capital reminded the country that racial inequality is not a U.S. issue alone.
In Canberra, organizers of a rally Friday that attracted about 2,000 demonstrators handed out masks and hand sanitizer. Most protesters kept a recommended social distance but drew closer to hear speeches. Public gatherings are limited to 20 in Canberra, but police did not intervene.
School teacher Wendy Brookman, a member of the Butchulla indigenous people, said Australia should not accept more than 430 indigenous Australians dying in police custody or prison in the past three decades.
“We’re not here to jump on the bandwagon of what’s happened in the United States,” Brookman said. “We’re here to voice what’s happening to our indigenous people.”
One of the protesters’ signs “I can’t breathe,” drew a parallel between George Floyd’s death in the U.S. on May 25 and the Australian indigenous experience. Those words were among the last spoken by Floyd and an indigenous Australian, David Dungay, who died in a prison hospital in 2015 while being restrained by five guards.
In South Korea, dozens gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy to condemn what they described as police brutality toward protesters in the U.S. They called for South Korea’s government to speak against the “racial discrimination and state violence” of its ally and pushed for an anti-discrimination law to improve the lives of migrant workers, undocumented foreigners and other minorities.
“As the U.S. civil society empowered and stood in solidarity with Korean pro-democracy activists in the past, we will now stand in solidarity with citizens in the United States,” said activist Lee Sang-hyun, referring to South Koreans’ bloody struggles against military dictatorships that ruled the country until the late 1980s.
Holding a banner that read “Justice for Floyd,” most of the protesters wore black and some brought flowers in honor of Floyd, who died last month after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his neck with a knee for several minutes while he pleaded for air.
Larger marches are planned in Seoul on Saturday to protest Floyd’s death.
In Australia, police in New South Wales state asked the Supreme Court to declare the Sydney protest illegal. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is among those who criticized the plans, saying of the protesters: “I say to them, don’t go.”
State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said organizers proposed a protest far smaller than what is likely to now take place Saturday. She said protesters could not guarantee social distancing protocols would be followed.
“All of us have given up so much and worked so hard to make sure we get on top of the virus,” Berejiklian told reporters.
In Sydney, outdoor gatherings are restricted to 10 people, while up to 50 people can go to funerals, places of worship, restaurants, pubs and cafes. New South Wales and Victoria, where another large protest is planned in Melbourne, are Australia’s worst-hit states by the virus.