Thousands of people rallied in Australia and Europe to honor George Floyd and to voice support Saturday for what is becoming an international Black Lives Matter movement, as a worldwide wave of solidarity with protests over the death of a black man in Minneapolis highlights racial discrimination outside the United States.
Demonstrators in Paris tried to gather in front of the U.S. Embassy in Paris, defying restrictions imposed by authorities because of the coronavirus pandemic. They were met by riot police who turned people on their way to the embassy, which French security forces sealed off behind an imposing ring of metal barriers and road blocks.
“You can fine me 10,000 or 20,000 times, the revolt will happen anyway,” Egountchi Behanzin, a founder of the Black African Defense League, told officers who stopped him to check his ID documents before he got close to the diplomatic building. “It is because of you that we are here.”
Pamela Carper, who joined an afternoon protest at London’s Parliament Square that headed towards the U.K. Home Office, which oversees the country’s police, said she was demonstrating to show “solidarity for the people of America who have suffered for too long.”
The British government urged people not to gather in large numbers and police have warned that mass demonstrations could be unlawful. In England, for example, gatherings of more than six people are not permitted.
Carper said the coronavirus had “no relevance” to her attendance and noted that she had a mask on.
“I am showing the government that I am heeding to their rules and everybody is staying away,” Carper said. “But I need to be here because the government is the problem. The government needs to change.”
In Sydney, protesters won a last-minute appeal against a Friday ruling declaring their rally unauthorized. The New South Wales Court of Appeal gave the green light just 12 minutes before the rally was scheduled to start, meaning those taking part could not be arrested.
Up to 1,000 protesters had already gathered in the Town Hall area of downtown Sydney ahead of the decision.
Floyd, a black man, died in handcuffs on May 25 while a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck even after he pleaded for air and stopped moving.
His death has struck a chord with minorities protesting discrimination elsewhere, including deaths of indigenous Australians in custody.
In Sydney, there was one early scuffle when police removed a man who appeared to be a counter protester carrying a sign reading, “White Lives, Black Lives, All Lives Matter.”
The rally appeared orderly as police handed out masks to protesters and other officials provided hand sanitizer.
“If we don’t die from the (coronavirus) pandemic, then we will die from police brutality,” Sadique, who has a West African background and said he goes by only one name, said in Sydney.
Bob Jones, 75, said it was worth the risk to rally for change despite the state’s chief health officer saying the event could help spread the coronavirus.
“If a society is not worth preserving, then what are you doing? You’re perpetuating a nonsense,” Jones said.
In Brisbane, the Queensland state capital, organizers said about 30,000 people gathered, forcing police to shut down some major downtown streets. The protesters demanded to have Australia‘s Indigenous flag raised at the police station.
State Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch encouraged Queenslanders to speak out.
“Whether you’re talking about the U.S. or right here in Australia, black lives matter,” she said. “Black lives matter today. Black lives matter every day.”
Indigenous Australians make up 2% of the the country’s adult population, but 27% of the prison population. They are also the most disadvantaged ethnic minority in Australia and have higher-than-average rates of infant mortality and poor health, as well as shorter life expectancies and lower levels of education and employment than other Australians.
In South Korea’s capital, Seoul, protesters gathered for a second straight day to denounce Floyd’s death.
Wearing masks and black shirts, dozens of demonstrators marched through a commercial district amid a police escort, carrying signs such as “George Floyd Rest in Peace” and “Koreans for Black Lives Matter.”
“I urge the U.S. government to stop the violent suppression of (U.S.) protesters and listen to their voices,” said Jihoon Shim, one of the rally’s organizers. “I also want to urge the South Korean government to show its support for their fight (against racism).”
In Tokyo, dozens of people gathered in a peaceful protest.
“Even if we are far apart, we learn of everything instantly on social media,”
“Can we really dismiss it all as irrelevant?” Taichi Hirano, one of the organizers, shouted to the crowd gathered outside Tokyo’s Shibuya train station. He stressed that Japanese are joining others raising their voices against what he called “systematic discrimination.”
In Berlin, thousands of mostly young people, many dressed in black and wearing face masks, joined a Black Lives Matter protest in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, or Alexander Square, on Saturday.
Some held up placards with slogans such as “Be the change,” I can’t breath” and “Germany is not innocent.”