One of the organisers behind a 4,400-strong Black Lives Matter protest scheduled for Tuesday says he is willing to catch coronavirus to get his message across.
Paul Silva will march on Sydney’s Town Hall on July 28 in honour of his uncle, David Dungay Junior, an Indigenous man who died in police custody in 2015.
While police are working on banning the protest in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, Mr Silva, along with other organisers, is adamant it must go ahead.
‘I definitely understand why people are concerned about the virus and we take social distancing seriously. We have masks and hand sanitisers, we advise people to keep 2m apart over our PA system every few minutes,’ Mr Silva told The Australian.
‘But people are taking a risk going to the shops. I’m not taking a risk buying clothes or shoes, I’m doing to it stand up for justice and Aboriginal lives.’
Authorities have urged protesters to reconsider attending the demonstration as Sydney experiences a spike in COVID-19 cases following a second outbreak in Victoria.
But the rally is capitalising on growing public outrage about the treatment of the black community following the death of George Floyd in America.
Follow 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.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the scheduled event is ‘appalling’ given the current climate.
‘(Mr Morrison) is telling us to follow the law but the police and corrective services are not following the law,’ Mr Silva said.
Police want to ban the protest because it breaks the state’s coronavirus restrictions which limit gatherings to 20 people in a public place.
Asked what his message is for the protesters, the prime minister said: ‘I just think that’s appalling.’
‘Where the police and where the state government has said that there’s a mass gathering that can’t go ahead, well, people should obey the law,’ he told Sydney radio 2GB on Wednesday morning.
‘I mean there’s no special rule for people to not obey the law. I mean, what gives people a ticket to not obey the law?’
New South Wales has suffered double-digit cases of coronavirus almost every day since July 13 after a freight worker from Melbourne spread the disease at a pub in south-west Sydney.
Should Tuesday’s Black Lives Matter protest go ahead in Sydney?
Should Tuesday’s Black Lives Matter protest go ahead in Sydney?
Now share your opinion
Premier Gladys Berejiklian told the protesters to express their views ‘in a different way’.
‘Irrespective of the issue, we need to follow the health advice. Large crowds are a huge concern. We cannot allow that march to continue unfortunately,’ she told the ABC on Wednesday morning.
‘If people feel strongly about that issue, they’re welcome to express their views in different ways, but it’s just not sensible at this time to expose yourself and others to the spread of the virus.
‘We’re at a critical point in New South Wales and we don’t want to see the virus spread and actions like that are a huge health risk.’
Protest organiser Paddy Gibson said the risk of attending is less than visiting the beach or a shopping centre.
‘At our protest, we will have COVID-safe teams specifically designed to be going around the crowds distributing masks, everyone attending will be asked to wear a mask, hand sanitiser will be distributed and people will be socially distanced,’ he said.
Mr Dungay was just 26 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 told the Today show on Tuesday it was ‘critical’ the rally went ahead 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.
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 said he will ask courts to block the rally.
‘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 NSW public health rules which limit gatherings to 20 people.
Six people who attended a mass rally in Melbourne in June tested positive for coronavirus.
Health officials said they were not infectious at the rally and did not catch the virus there.
But Health Minister Greg Hunt said their behaviour helped spread the virus by leading people to believe that social distancing requirements were over.
‘Once the protests occurred, there were some who saw what appeared to be an understandable view of a double standard, and changed their behaviours,’ he told Nine’s Today show on July 9.
‘Those behaviours – reduce the engagement and the movement with other people, increase the distance – those rules will help us save our lives.’