Victoria Police will not fine people attending a Melbourne Black Lives Matter protest highlighting Aboriginal deaths in custody this weekend, but is warning the event poses a risk for coronavirus transmission.
- The protest has been organised by members of Victoria’s Aboriginal communities in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States
- Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said police had judged it was “simply not feasible” to fine the thousands of protesters expected on Saturday
- Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said he would prefer the protest be postponed until it was safe for large gatherings to occur
Police are expecting thousands to attend the protest on Saturday, which has been organised by members of Victoria’s Aboriginal communities in response to the alleged murder of African-American George Floyd by a police officer in the US.
The killing in police custody has sparked a wave of protests across the US, leading to the deaths of 13 people.
More than 13,000 people have flagged their interest in attending the Melbourne protest on the Facebook event page.
Premier Daniel Andrews said this morning Victoria Police had judged it was “simply not feasible” to fine or arrest demonstrators for breaching coronavirus restrictions, “particularly given there may be many thousands of people at this protest”.
Mr Andrews stressed the importance of the protest remaining “peaceful”.
“The only form of legitimate protest is a peaceful protest,” he said.
“Victoria Police will not tolerate violence, and they will not tolerate some of the disorder that we’ve seen overseas.
“What we’ve seen happen in the United States is a tragedy and it speaks to many of the differences between our society and the society in the United States.”
Police ‘keen to support’ community’s voice but concerned about transmission risk
At a press conference, Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said Victoria Police understood and acknowledged “the anger and frustration of the events taking place overseas”.
“We absolutely understand the sentiment and the anger that lies behind that and we are very keen to support the community in giving a voice to their concerns,” he said.
But he conceded he would prefer the protest to be postponed and said it was “not a licence to break the law”.
“Those directions and that advice [from the Chief Health Officer] stands,” he said.
He said police, including the Mounted Branch, would ensure protesters were complying by the directives of the Chief Health Officer but would exercise discretion when it came to fines.
Under directives from the Chief Health Officer that came into affect on June 1, Victorians can only gather outside in groups of no more than 20 people, including household members.
“We would prefer this protest occurred at another time, at a time when on advice from the Chief Health Officer we’re told it would be safe for such a mass gathering to occur,” Assistant Commissioner Cornelius said.
“It would be terrible to think that as a result of a large gathering the most vulnerable people in our community … be exposed to [coronavirus].”
Police are also aware counter-protest activity has been planned for Saturday.
“We have seen this in previous protests and we’re very much alive to this and this has been factored into our planning,” Assistant Commissioner Cornelius said.
“We do respect the right everyone has to protest peacefully and lawfully.”
The protest organisers, Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, have been contacted for comment.