A group of Indigenous doctors is calling for a planned Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney to be postponed on health grounds.
Organisers of the rally, due to be held next Tuesday, have vowed to push ahead despite concerns about a resurgence of coronavirus infections in the city and pleas from political leaders.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the decision “appalling”, New South Wales Gladys Berejiklian demanded it be cancelled and Police Commissioner Mick Fuller plans to go to court to block the protest.
Now, the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association has joined the chorus of calls for the event to be postponed, with estimates some 4000 may attend.
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In a statement, the group said it “unreservedly supports peoples’ right to protest and acknowledges the historic and ongoing role that protest has played in changing laws and practices that have discriminated against Indigenous peoples”.
“From the 1938 Day of Mourning and the Freedom Rides to the Wave Hill Walk Off, the AIDA remembers those who stood up for equality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians,” the group said.
But it also understands the “historic devastation” of unchecked viral contagions on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, AIDA’s statement read.
“For the sake of our Elders and most vulnerable, AIDA urges people not to attend the Black Lives Matter protest marches in Sydney this weekend until the risks of further spread of COVID-19 can be mitigated.
“We acknowledge the work of Black Lives Matter protest organisers in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in protests held so far, and do not link existing cases of COVID-19 to previous protests.
“Despite this, as doctors we are bound to remind everyone that social distancing is still the best way to prevent the further spread of this potentially deadly new virus.”
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The worrying community transmission of COVID-19 in NSW meant that restrictions on mass gatherings need to be respected, it said.
“The Australian Indigenous Doctors Association recognises the legacy of racism and calls for greater commitment to justice reinvestment strategies, diversion programs and culturally appropriate approaches that address the core issues of injustice raised by the BLM movement.
“We do not encourage any action that will increase the risk of COVID-19 entering Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities.
“We will continue to support the community’s rights to engage in advocacy, we encourage people to protest by other means during this health crisis, but must warn people of the inherent danger in mass gatherings at the present time.”
One of the organisers of the event, Paul Silva, whose uncle David Dungay Jr, an Aboriginal man, died in custody in 2015, addressed the media about the pleas.
Mr Silva claimed the coronavirus crisis was being used as “an excuse to silence us” and said the protest would “most definitely” go ahead on Tuesday.
“These protests are being singled out by the NSW police and the government and that’s because they see the support from all different nationalities, people of all different walks of life, and they know our message is definitely getting across,” he told reporters.
“They’re trying to silence us while using the pandemic as an excuse, but Westfield shopping centres, pubs and clubs are still chock-a-block. We put in substantial steps to make sure everyone is safe at these protests.
“Personally, I’d say they’re safer than your local pub because they’re conducted outdoors so there’s space for social distancing.
“We hand out hand sanitiser and masks for people that don’t have them.”
A Facebook event for the protest indicates 1200 people are planning to attend and another 3200 are interested in going along.
Black Lives Matter protests were held across Australia in early June, in solidarity with demonstrations in the US over the death of African-American man George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer.
The rallies, which attracted tends of thousands of people, also highlighted the issue of Indigenous deaths in custody.
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