The biggest demonstration was in Perth, the Western Australia state capital, where the Australian Broadcasting Corp. estimated that 5,000 people gathered to honor George Floyd and remember indigenous Australian people who have died while in custody.
Floyd, a black man, died in handcuffs on May 25 while a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck. His death has prompted weeks of protests in the U.S. and around the world with the same theme: Black Lives Matter.
The threat of rain and and lack of a city council permit meant the Perth rally didn't reach the expected 8,000-15,000 people organizers had hoped would attend. Hannah McGlade, a human rights lawyer and activist, called for an independent investigation into indigenous deaths in custody and rejected calls from politicians for people not to gather for the protests.
“They told us not to come. They told us to be silent. We will not be silent," McGlade said. Western Australia state Premier Mark McGowan had urged organizers to postpone the event, saying “this is about trying to save people’s lives.”
A man in his 30s who attended the rally in Melbourne last weekend later tested positive for the coronavirus, heightening concerns about a potential second wave in Australia just as the federal and state governments are easing restrictions.
Western Australia COVID-19 regulations prohibit crowds of more than 300 from gathering, although police weren't enforcing social distancing fines and organizers offered face masks and hand sanitizer to protesters on Saturday.
The nationwide day of protests started in the far north, with more than 1,000 people gathering in City Park in Darwin, which has the highest proportion of Aboriginal people of Australia's state capitals.
Police in the North Territory issued a statement saying the event was peaceful “and allowed community members to express their views in a safe environment." Sharna Alley, one of the Darwin protest organizers, told the crowd in comments broadcast by Sky News Australia: “We’re tired of the injustices. We’re tired of the brutality against our people in so-called protective custody. We really want to know, when will it stop.”
Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders comprise 2% of Australia's adult population but 27% of the prison population. They are also the most disadvantaged ethnic minority in the country and have higher-than-average rates of infant mortality and poorer overall health, as well as shorter life expectancy and lower levels of education and employment than other Australians.
Refugee activists held small rallies in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to protest the detention of asylum seekers, despite warnings from police saying anyone attending the Sydney protest risked being fined and arrested.
An estimated 70 protesters were outnumbered by police at Sydney's Town Hall. Police, including some mounted on horseback, counted protesters as they gathered and dispersed groups of more than 20. New South Wales state Police Assistant Commissioner Michael Willing said the Sydney protests were not authorized and “we’ll take whatever action we need to take to ensure that the COVID health order is abided by and that the community is kept safe.”