Chanting “Black lives matter,” “I can't breathe” and “George Floyd,” thousands of protesters held an impassioned but peaceful march through central Sydney on Tuesday demanding fundamental change in race relations.
Many said they were inspired by the ongoing protests in the U.S. following the death of Floyd, a black man who was pinned to the pavement by a white police officer, but had turned out also to call for change in Australia's treatment of its indigenous population, particularly by police.
Around 3,000 people, mainly Australians but also some from the U.S. and elsewhere, marched for around half a mile under police escort.
“I'm here for my people, and for our fallen brothers and sisters around the world," said Amanda Hill of Sydney, a 46-year-old indigenous woman who attended the rally with her daughter and two nieces.
“What's happening in America shines a light on the situation here," she said. "It doesn't matter if it's about the treatment of black men and women from here or from another country — enough is enough.”
A total of 432 indigenous Australians have died in police detention since a 1991 Royal Commission, Australia's highest level of official inquiry, into deaths of Aboriginals in custody, according to a running analysis by The Guardian newspaper.
Australia's indigenous people have higher-than-average rates of infant mortality and poor health, as well as shorter life expectancy and lower levels of education and employment than white Australians.
“Always was, always will be Aboriginal land,” protesters chanted on Tuesday.
Ray O'Shannassy, one of the rally's organizers, said he hopes the protest — and a far larger one planned for Sydney on Saturday — will lead to long-term change.
“We plan to build this into a solid movement, where it's not just a matter of every time someone passes away we go out and march," he said. "There's other injustices occurring every day. We want to build a long-term movement off of this, looking at deaths in custody, land rights and other issues.”
Sydney student Chelsea Caffrey, 18, held a sign reading, “We're here because they aren't.” The sign included representations of Floyd — whose May 25 death in Minneapolis sparked the ongoing protests across the U.S. — and Australian David Dungay.
Dungay was an indigenous 26-year-old man who died in the hospital section of a Sydney jail in 2015 while being restrained by five guards. Like Floyd, he had repeatedly called out “I can't breathe” before he died.
“Australians are largely ignorant to the injustices that happen here, but just because it isn't filmed and put on TV doesn't mean it doesn't happen,” Caffrey said.
An American protester, a 25-year-old woman who gave her name only as Merinda, held a sign reading, “Sydney stands with Black Lives Matter."
“I'm feeling the distance being so far away from home, but this is a great opportunity to use my voice and to show them that we're with them," she said.
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