We’re Still Here

by Chris Gilbert

Aboriginal families who’ve lost loved ones in police custody led a massive Black Lives Matters March though a sunlit Sydney this past Saturday, June 6.  In a poignant pre-march hour of personal reflections, they spoke of the invisibility of what they’ve suffered, of 432 deaths in custody since 1991 and not a single police officer held accountable. It was at times tender and defiant as captured in one line, “Our land’s been stolen but we’re still here.” 

Between the addresses, the crowd chanted “No Justice, No Peace!”(Amos 5:24), adding “No racist police!” and “I can’t Breathe!” and “Black Lives matter!” Young, old and multi-ethnic they punched the air with a passion.

As the march took shape I waited on the Town Hall steps alongside a 70-year-old Dunghutti woman, Margaret Campbell, as she was interviewed by a New York Times reporter.  Afterwards, she told me she was optimistic despite being at many fruitless rallies for Aboriginal justice over the years. 

“This one is different,” she said, “There’s a nice spirit about it and people here who have never come out to support us before, lots of white faces in the crowd. It gives me hope that this time something will change.”

We looked out on a colourful rally, most people masked, holding banners worded from the witty to the Biblical to the profane, and covering three blocks on George Street.  NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Willing estimated 20,000 marched and he too spoke approvingly of the spirit of the event.

Marchers head off to Belmore Park, Sydney

Social distancing proved impossible, but there was a deeper tension. Fifteen minutes from the 3pm start, the Court of Appeal decided that the rally, at that point “unauthorised,” was now “authorised.” Palpable relief rippled through George Street and rally organisers didn’t hide their jubilation.  

Police adjusted with speed to a plan B of assisting the march and they remained on the edges of the event, unobtrusive to most of the crowd. 

Social distancing concerned some of his officers but,“While some people were spoken to, no formal police action was required,” Willing said. 

Banners from the Biblical to the Profane

The march inched along George, Bathurst and Castlereagh Streets then stopped briefly at 4:30pm while everyone knelt in tribute to George Floyd, who’s death at the hands of Minnesota police in the U.S. began worldwide protests for racial justice.  Arriving at Belmore Park, the crowd dispersed just after 5pm. 

4:30pm Marchers stopped and knelt in solidarity with the Floyd family and the 432 families who lost a loved one in police custody since 1991.