Tens of thousands of people gathered Saturday in cities from Australia to Europe, to express anger over the death of George Floyd and to demand an end to racial discrimination in a sign that the Black Lives Matter movement is going global.
Demonstrators in Paris tried to gather in front of the U.S. Embassy, defying restrictions imposed by authorities because of the coronavirus pandemic. They were met by riot police who turned people away from 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 Defence 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, and then on to the U.S. Embassy, 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 warned that mass demonstrations could be unlawful. In England, for example, gatherings of more than six people are not permitted.
In Berlin, where police said 15,000 people rallied peacefully on the city’s Alexander Square, protesters chanted the name of George Floyd and held up placards with slogans such as “I can’t breath.”
Floyd, a black man, died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck even after he pleaded for air while handcuffed and stopped moving.
His death has struck a chord with minorities protesting discrimination elsewhere; demonstrators in Sydney highlighted indigenous Australians who died in custody.
Sydney police removed a man who appeared to be a
counter-protester and carried 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).”
Chris Trabot, who works for Paris City Hall, said George Floyd’s death last week in the U.S. state of Minnesota triggered his decision to demonstrate Saturday for the first time in his life.
Born in the French territory of Martinique, Trabot said he first experienced racism as a child when he moved with his family to mainland France and got in frequent fights with white kids who mocked his skin colour.
As an adult, he says he’s been targeted with racial abuse during ID checks. Recently, his 9-year-old daughter has told him of being a target of racism, too, with schoolmates mocking her hair.
Jessica Corandi, a Paris Metro driver, said she cried when she saw the video of Floyd’s treatment by Minneapolis police. The 37-year-old said her three young girls have started to notice people looking at them strangely on the streets of Paris, which she believes is because they are black.
Protesters outside the U.S. consulate in Naples chanted “Freedom!” and “No Justice, No Peace, (expletive) the police” in English and Italian as they clapped and carried handmade signs and a big banner printed with “Black Lives Matter” and a clenched black fist.
In Italy, racist incidents have been on the rise in recent years with an influx of migrants from Africa and the growth of anti-migrant sentiment. Italy’s race problem also makes headlines when derogatory slurs are directed at black soccer players, incidents that result in fines and sanctions for clubs.
Taking part in the rally in Berlin, Lloyd Lawson, 54, who was born in Britain but raised in Germany, said he had faced racism his entire life.
“The killing and these violent physical things that have happened is only just the top of it,” Lawson said. “That’s why you’ve got to start right from the bottom, just like an iceberg. Children having to grow up with racism, children having to grow up not being accepted.”
Associated Press journalists Rick Rycroft in Sydney, Dennis Passa and John Pye in Brisbane, Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, John Leicester in Paris, Pan Pylas in London and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.