Prime Minister Scott Morrison was smugly distancing Australia from the riots in the USA over the George Floyd public murder, but voices were quick to point out that there had been 432 deaths in custody in Australia since 1991, despite Royal Commissions and their findings, which were not implemented.
The demonstration was planned as everyone here knows the COVID19 lockdown is gradually being eased as there are now few community-acquired cases in Australia.
But the Police applied to the Supreme Court and got them to declare the rally and march illegal under the COVID19 restrictions. I had been going to miss the march on health grounds, but the Police rather than the public health authorities wanting it declared illegal made me want to attend.
As I have written before, Police intolerance of any sort of dissent was clearly brought home to me when I wore a sign that said, ‘Respect the Dead by working for Peace’ at the ANZAC service in Hyde Park in 2019, where the police sergeant said that he would arrest me if I did not move 50 metres away.
John Howard initiated the needless Australian invasion of the Middle East against the wishes of 74% of the population who marched in 2004. The creation of a terror threat due to that folly, the handling of that threat by increasing surveillance, decreasing civil liberties and increasing Police power without supervision is a trend of our time. The other trend, the increase in social inequality has put pressure on Police, as the enforcers of the norms of a social system that excludes an increasing percentage of the population.
But the Police inability to handle mental illness or drunkenness and conflict has not been sufficient. There are too many deaths in custody, which principally affect Aboriginal people and too many Police shootings, which principally affect the mentally ill.
So I was not willing to sit at home because the Police did not want a demonstration that asked that they be called to account and change their ways.
Interestingly some of my son’s friends who are overseas students did not dare to go lest their visas be cancelled.
The Supreme Court’s ban on the rally and march was overturned on appeal in the morning, but my opinion was that most people going to the 3pm event were unaware of this and, like myself had decided to go anyway.
The city had prepared for the event by stopping the trams from Circular Quay, (could they have run from Central to Randwick?), and by the trains not stopping at Town Hall. So we walked from Circular Quay and the demonstration went back almost the full length of the Queen Victoria building in George St. It later went back further than this. Protesters were socially distancing and about two thirds were wearing masks. People were walking among the protesters issuing masks and hand sanitiser, and soon more than 90% were wearing masks. There was a wide spread of ages and racial origins.
The protest speakers were on the Town Hall steps, but could not be heard at all for a fair percentage of the crowd as the PA system which is on the traffic lights was not in use by the speakers. After about half an hour, at about 3.30pm the speeches stopped, and everyone assumed that the March would start. It did not. It was not clear what was happening, whether the rally was allowed and the march not. There was quite a lot of chanting of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and also activist shouting, ‘Too Many Coppers’ with the reply ‘Not enough Justice’.
There were Police amongst the protesters. They did not look comfortable, and I noted Glock pistols in their holsters. Glock pistols have no safety catches, so the only thing stopping them or someone else grabbing them was the flap and press stud on the top of the holsters.
We kept thinking that we were about to march, as we went forward in little bursts. But looking a long way ahead we could see that the placards were not moving. All that was happening was that the social distancing was being taken up. This and the chanting would have increased the infection danger somewhat, so one could only wonder at the reason for the delay. The rally and march had been scheduled from 3pm to 5pm with a break at 4.32pm when we were all to kneel for 1 minute to remember the 432 people who had died.
The March started a bit before 4pm and wound to Belmore Park near Central station with the stop and kneeling at 4.32pm an impressive moment. Belmore Park was totally packed, with social distancing quite undermined, so we took a photo and left. Apparently there were some minor scuffles between Police and people who stayed after 5pm.
It was interesting that the public, who have been very compliant and responsible throughout the COVID19 epidemic, were willing to defy the Supreme Court ban on the rally and march. The large Police presence suggested that they were willing to suppress the event, but there were a very large number of protesters, 17,000 seems a reasonable estimate. I do not think that the crowd would have tolerated not having the rally and not marching, so it might have escalated with lines of Police, riot shields, water cannon and tear gas. Fortunately sense prevailed.
It was a victory for the people in the sense that they stated in large numbers their attitude to Black Deaths in custody, and the limits to which they are willing to tolerate the Police, the government and the Supreme Court telling them what they may and may not do. The relatively poor uptake of the COVID19 tracking app is a similar indicator of the trust of government. No, we do not want COVID19, but we do not trust the government either.
As I get older, I trust people more and government and institutions less, and work for the power to go to those who legitimately own it, the people. This was a good day. Hopefully no COVID19 cases will result.