Thousands at WA's Black Lives Matter rally

Thousands have protested against racial injustice at Perth's Black Lives Matter rally despite the threat of coronavirus.

Michael Ramsey
Australian Associated PressJune 13, 20203:32am

Thousands of people have defied politicians and braved the rain to protest against Aboriginal deaths in custody at Perth's Black Lives Matter rally.

Decades of injustice were laid bare during passionate speeches at Saturday's event at Langley Park, with turnout at least double the 8000 organisers had expected despite a torrential downpour midway through the rally.

Police said there were no incidents to report from the protest which included a march through the city.

Organisers ignored the pleas of West Australian Premier Mark McGowan and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt to delay the protest until after the coronavirus pandemic was over.

But social distancing requests were largely adhered to, while most attendees wore face masks, and hand sanitiser was made available.

Human rights lawyer and activist Hannah McGlade, a Noongar woman, called for an independent investigation of the 432 indigenous deaths in custody recorded in Australia in the past 30 years.

"The premier and minister Wyatt said we should cancel today," she told the crowd.

"They told us not to come. They told us to be silent.

"We will not be silent."

Dr McGlade acknowledged Yamatji woman Ms Dhu, who died in custody in August 2014 after being locked up in South Hedland for $3622 in unpaid fines.

The 22-year-old, whose first name is not used for cultural reasons, was later found to have been treated inhumanely.

Others spoke of Aboriginal boy Elijah Doughty, who was riding a stolen dirt bike when he was run down and killed by its white owner near Kalgoorlie in 2016.

The man was charged but later acquitted of manslaughter, before being convicted of dangerous driving causing death and serving half of a three-year jail term.

"We will say their names," Dr McGlade said.

"This is what we now have to say to the premier and the government: stop the killings of Aboriginal people and racial violence and hate crimes."

As protesters chanted "black lives matter" and "I can't breathe", elder Jackie Oakley said it was tragic Aboriginal caregivers were forced to equip their children with the tools to survive.

"On a per capita basis, we are the most incarcerated people in the world," she said.

Police Commissioner Chris Dawson had earlier ruled out shutting down the protest but warned any violence would be met with "strong policing".

Organisers worked with the local council on how best to ensure social distancing was maintained, while anyone who was immunocompromised or suffered from respiratory, cardiac or other chronic illness was urged to stay home.

Carly Lane, the indigenous wife of health minister and deputy premier Roger Cook, was among the attendees despite the government urging people not to go.

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