NSW police seek to block Newcastle Black Lives Matter protest ahead of rallies across country on weekend

Naaman Zhou
Photograph: James D Morgan/Getty Images

New South Wales police have applied to the state’s supreme court to block another upcoming Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Lives Matter protest scheduled for the weekend.

The protest, scheduled for Sunday at 1pm in Newcastle’s Civic Park, is being challenged by police who have argued it breaches the NSW Public Health Order’s limit of 20 people in a public gathering.

Around the country, other protests are scheduled for noon, Saturday at King George Square, Brisbane; Tarndanyangga (Victoria Square), Adelaide; Supreme Court Gardens, Perth; and 1pm, Sunday, at the Domain, Sydney.

The organisers of the Newcastle event, the Indigenous advocacy group Fighting in Solidarity Towards Treaties, said the protest will still go ahead with face masks, hand sanitiser and physical distancing in place.

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In June, police lost an application in the NSW supreme court against an earlier Black Lives Matter protest that eventually drew tens of thousands of people. On appeal, the court ruled that police had signalled approval for the march in an earlier planning email.

This weekend, demonstrators are protesting against Indigenous over-incarceration and deaths in custody, and NSW organisers are demanding the closure of youth prisons, the transfer of resources away from police and prisons into community-controlled programs, and justice for Indigenous people killed in police custody.

The Sydney protest on Sunday is being co-organised by family of David Dungay Jr, the 26-year-old Dunghutti man who said “I can’t breathe” 12 times before he died in 2015 while being restrained by five prison guards

Paul Silva, Dungay’s nephew said he would be in attendance on Sunday.

“When my family saw the footage of George Floyd being murdered, gasping ‘I can’t breathe’ we felt it deeply,” he said in a statement. “My uncle David Dungay Jnr was killed in the same way.”

“With the Black Lives Matter movement we have never seen so much support for the campaign against Black deaths in custody and never had so many people calling for justice for my uncle.

“We won’t be intimidated by threats from the government about ‘unauthorised’ protests. You can go to a pub now, a football stadium, a shopping centre, but they want to stop people fighting for justice? This is just an attempt to silence our voices. We take Covid-19 safety very seriously and will have safety measures in place, but we will not stop taking to the streets.”

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In a statement, the NSW Police told Australian Associated Press that it supported the right to protest.

“While many restrictions under the Public Health Act have recently eased, the Public Health Order directs public gatherings do not exceed more than 20 people while maintaining one person per 4 sq metres,” a spokeswoman said.

“The NSW Police Force recognises and supports the rights of individuals and groups to exercise their rights of free speech and peaceful assembly, however, the first priority for NSW Police is always the safety of the wider community.”

But co-organiser of the Newcastle protest, Taylah Gray, told AAP: “It is not against the law to protest, regardless of the health circumstances we are in. Not a single case of Covid-19 has been linked back to protesters in NSW.”

She said that protestors had provided police with a notice of intent to hold the protest on 24 June – beyond the seven days required.

In Adelaide, organisers wrote to attendees: “Most importantly, if you are sick or immunocompromised, STAY AT HOME.”

“You can still help out by making sure to share the protest as much as possible across all networks, and ensuring your friends are going along.

“If you are coming, you must be wearing a face mask … Make sure to bring along your own hand-sanitiser during the event to regularly apply during the rally.

“While at the demonstration we will be enforcing social distancing, meaning where possible you will have to stand 1.5 metres apart from those who are not from your household.”

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