The organiser of a Black Lives Matter protest scheduled for Sydney next week says the risk of attending is less than visiting the beach or a shopping centre.
New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, along with members of the public, have urged protesters to reconsider attending the demonstration amid a second COVID-19 outbreak in the state.
But organiser Paddy Gibson told the Today show on Tuesday it was ‘critical’ the rally went ahead next Tuesday, while the world was ‘finally listening’ to the concerns of black voices.
He said the risk posed by the protest was no more than the risk hundreds of people had taken in recent weeks by visiting the beach, packed markets or shopping centres.
‘I do understand people would be concerned. I was at the markets on the weekend where hundreds, if not thousands, of people went through the markets,’ Mr Gibson said.
At least 4,400 are expected to take to the streets next Tuesday to demand justice for David Dungay Jnr, an Indigenous man who died in custody in 2015.
He was just 26 years old when he died after he was forcibly removed from his Long Bay prison cell when guards rushed to stop him from eating biscuits.
Mr Gibson guaranteed the protest would be ‘far better organised and with better attention to COVID safety than what I saw at the markets’.
He recalled watching people ‘piled on top of each other with no hand sanitiser and very few masks’.
‘Everyone will have a mask at the rally and we will have hand sanitiser and we can spread out far more safely than people in shopping centres,’ he said.
He also cited the prime minister’s decision to attend a football match last weekend as reason to believe the protest could be safely managed.
‘All of these activities are continuing and we believe with social distancing, everyone wearing masks, we can put the message across and say justice must be done and the guards must be charged for this killing,’ Mr Gibson said.
He told host Karl Stefanovic there had not been one example of known community transmission at any of the recent rallies in Australia, and said he’d attended plenty.
‘But there is plenty of transmission that’s happened in shopping centres. None of them have been closed down,’ he pointed out.
‘We say this is a double standard. We say if we are allowed to space out, it will be far safer to be on the streets with our critical message, end the mass incarceration of Aboriginal people, deliver justice for the people that have been killed. We want to see charges laid.’
As New South Wales battles to control a second wave of COVID-19, which spread from Victoria, Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has appealed to the Supreme Court to have the rally blocked.
‘I don’t want to see the same thing happen in NSW, and getting a big group together for a Black Lives Matters protest in Sydney, when you know the dangers, is playing Russian roulette with the nearly eight million people who live in the state,’ Commissioner Fuller told The Australian.
‘We’ll be going to the Supreme Court to stop it from going ahead — win, lose or draw, if anyone turns up and breaches public health orders, we’ll start writing tickets for a thousand dollars.’
Mr Fuller said organisers had lodged an application for the protest in late July, but police were prepared to fine those attending.
Even if the protest is deemed legal, police will still be able to fine people breaking health directives and social distancing requirements.
‘We are taking a tougher approach to breaches because there is a real feeling we are on a knife’s edge at the moment,’ he said.
The Police Commissioner urged protesters to pledge their support for the Black Lives Matter movement in other forums.
‘Whether I can write two or three thousand tickets, I don’t know. But do you want to be that person to get the first ticket?’ he earlier told 2GB Radio.
‘It’s just not the time.
‘We know from Victoria that lives will be at risk and it’s just not worth it.’
Victorian health authorities confirmed six attendees among 10,000 at the Melbourne Black Lives Matter protest on June 6 had since tested positive to the virus.
However the Department of Health refuted claims the protest was linked to an outbreak cluster in Melbourne’s public housing towers, which has contributed to a second wave of new infections that has since spread interstate.
New South Wales recorded its highest number of cases in months on Monday with 20 new diagnoses, in addition to 18 on Sunday.
Victoria recorded its second biggest spike in cases on Tuesday with 375 confirmed overnight.
Protests held in Sydney last month erupted into chaos when about 30,000 people stormed the city’s CBD.
Dramatic scenes at Sydney’s Central Station saw police using pepper spray on protesters, leaving some screaming in pain and laying on the ground after tensions boiled over.
Chants of ‘f**k the police’ rang out through the city as ralliers demanded justice for Indigenous Australians.
Mr Dungay died in a Sydney jail in 2015 and told officers who were pinning him down ‘I can’t breathe’ 12 times before his death.
The organisers for the July 28 protest which will also demand equality for Indigenous Australians, have urged people to stay at home if they have any flu like symptoms.
More than 4,000 people have expressed their interest for the protest and ralliers are required to keep 1.5 metre distance.
In New South Wales people are restricted from gathering together in groups of more than 20.