Coronavirus

People who attend protests over the weekend are ‘certifiably insane’, says NSW Police Minister

NSW Minister for Police David Elliot has slammed people planning to attend tomorrow's Black Lives Matter protest. Source: AAP

Organisers of the protests have dismissed calls for the events to be shut down due to COVID-19, describing them as an "essential service".

The NSW police minister has condemned anyone planning to attend Australian Black Lives Matter protests this weekend in solidarity with those taking place in the United States, describing them as “nuts” and not “of sound mind”.

Protests against police brutality and Indigenous deaths in custody are planned in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, and Melbourne on Saturday, and Canberra on Friday, with 10,000 people marked as attending on the NSW Facebook event and another 18,000 in Victoria.

Intense protests have swept the world after an unarmed black man, George Floyd, was killed at the hands of police in Minneapolis on 25 May.

Protesters rally during a George Floyd Memorial demonstration  in Brooklyn , New York.
Protesters rally during a George Floyd Memorial demonstration in Brooklyn, New York.
EPA

The death has sparked outrage over Australia’s own history of police brutality, with more than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody since 1991, according to the Guardian’s Deaths Inside database.

NSW Police Minister David Elliot told 2GB’s Ben Fordham on Friday that “anybody who goes to a mass gathering during a pandemic is certifiably insane”. 

“If you attend a mass gathering and then expose any disease to a loved one, someone who is vulnerable, to the elderly, then you have acted completely inappropriately,” he said.

Coronavirus social distancing restrictions in NSW currently bar gatherings of more than 10 people outside or 50 in a pub, bar or restaurant.

In response, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Friday afternoon that the NSW Police would seek an injunction from the Supreme Court to put a stop to the event.

She said the protests had been approved by police on the understanding it would be a small gathering. 

"The New South Wales Government would never ever give the green light to thousands of people flagrantly disregarding the health orders," Ms Berejiklian said. 

Hours earlier, Mr Elliot had said there was “nothing he can do” to oppose the event after “being up half the night” taking legal advice. 

“There are things in our society that are just virtually impossible to stop, and the right for political freedom is one of them,” he said.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews also urged people not to attend the rally in Melbourne.

Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on Friday instead encouraged anyone who wished to protest to “do it from home”.

Raul Bassi, from the Indigenous Social Justice Association, one of the organisers of the Sydney protest, said they had changed the location of the event when the expected attendance grew to ensure there was enough room to socially distance. 

“We are organised with marshals, and other things, to instruct people to keep their separation in the best way possible,” he told SBS News.

“They criticise us because they say we are protesting for something that happened in America. That is wrong, we are protesting something that is happening here.”

Organisers of the Melbourne rally have also defended the protest plans.

“We think that this is an essential service to stand up for an Aboriginal person’s right to life, and also stand in solidarity with George Floyd and the more broader Black Lives Matter movement in the US,” Meriki Onus, of Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, told ABC News on Friday.

“We’re marching like they marched in Paris, we’re marching like they marched in New Zealand, we’re marching like Perth, Sydney and Brisbane are marching tomorrow."

All the events recommend attendees wear face masks, use hand sanitiser and practice 1.5 metre social distancing. Organisers for the Melbourne rally have instructed that “everyone must wear a mask” at the protest.

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