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Black Lives Matter protest could match Invasion Day, organisers say

Organiser Tarneen Onus-Williams, from activist group Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, believed the video of Mr Floyd’s death and the action that followed had sparked renewed anger about police violence against Indigenous people.

More than 400 Aboriginal people have died in custody since 1991, according to Aboriginal-led justice coalition Change the Record.

Thousands marched through the streets of Melbourne to protest Australia Day.

Thousands marched through the streets of Melbourne to protest Australia Day.Credit:Chris Hopkins

“We’ve seen it before but people are paying attention more now,” Ms Onus-Williams said.

“It’s pretty huge, the world is supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.”

The gathering will form at Parliament House on Saturday afternoon before marching down Bourke Street. Attendees are being asked to wear masks, bring hand sanitiser and stand more than 1.5 metres apart.

Ms Onus-Williams said she anticipated the event would be bigger than the march against Australia Day on January 26.

Regularly drawing crowds in the tens of thousands, the annual Invasion Day protest highlights the dispossession suffered by Indigenous people after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.

Events in the 232 years since then mean Australia had no right to take the moral high ground about racism, Ms Onus-Williams said.

“They [Australians] think that America has an issue with racism and one thing that Australians don’t understand is that they are living on stolen land and land that has been obtained through genocide and dispossession,” she said.

With a large police presence expected on Saturday, authorities warned protesters against engaging in violence.

Former Greens MP Lidia Thorpe with Members of the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (L-R) Apryl Day, Tarneen Onus-Williams, Crystal McKinnon and Rosie Kalina.

Former Greens MP Lidia Thorpe with Members of the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (L-R) Apryl Day, Tarneen Onus-Williams, Crystal McKinnon and Rosie Kalina.Credit:Luis Ascui

Ms Onus-Williams said that previous rallies had not had any major confrontations.

“We’re not expecting anything like that at all,” she said. “We have marshalls on the ground who will be assisting people, who will be keeping the rally safe from police

“Our biggest worry is violence from the police, that’s the most serious concern that we have at the moment.”

WAR has gathered a strong following since it first appeared at the Brisbane G20 protests in 2014, with a stated aim of decolonisation and Aboriginal nationalism.

Demonstrators march to protest the death of George Floyd in Washington.

Demonstrators march to protest the death of George Floyd in Washington. Credit:AP

North West Metro Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said Victoria Police “understands and acknowledges the anger and frustration” from the Indigenous community but warned the major gathering could spur community transmission of the virus.

“It would indeed be a tragedy if people of good faith and intent coming together to give voice to protest were to give way to the elderly and most vulnerable in our community to be exposed to coronavirus,” he said on Wednesday morning.

With a big crowd expected, Ms Onus-Williams conceded it would be difficult for people to maintain social distancing.

“When you’re in that moment and you’re on the streets, all us blackfellas are thinking about is our families and our community that are dying because of the police,” she said.

Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius during a press conference on Wednesday.

Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius during a press conference on Wednesday. Credit:James Ross/AAP

“This is one of the ways we can get our voices heard, so I think people might not social distance. But that’s what we’re encouraging people to do.”

Those who are unwell or exhibiting flu-like symptoms are being told to stay home.

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Ms Onus-Williams encouraged those who wanted to attend but couldn’t to donate to grassroots indigenous organisations, similar to the “Pay the rent” campaign from earlier this year.

Premier Daniel Andrews warned violence would not be tolerated at the Melbourne rally.

“If it’s not peaceful then it is not a protest, it is something very different,” he said.

Police had made a decision not to issue protesters with fines for breaching social distancing, as they did not believe it was feasible to fine thousands of people at a rally, he said.

Opposition spokesman for police and community safety David Southwick said the government must ensure that coronavirus restrictions are enforced consistently at the protest.

“Daniel Andrews cannot hide from this issue and must back the calls of Victoria Police and ensure this protest doesn’t threaten the health and safety of the community,” he said.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp said there had been many instances of shameful and unjust treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over many years in Australia.

Ms Capp said she had considered whether to attend the protest on Saturday, but had decided against due to the COVID-19 health risk for large gatherings.

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