‘We are not punching bags’: Cops hit back
NSW Police have defended the use of capsicum spray on a group of people who allegedly acted aggressively after a protest in Sydney against racism and Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Black Lives Matter protests across Australia have been largely peaceful but things took a turn for the worse in Sydney last night.
Dozens of protesters in Sydney's Central Station were hit with pepper spray last night after a tense stand-off with police officers.
NSW Police Acting Commissioner Mal Lanyon said the protest was mostly peaceful but expressed disappointment in the "aggressive" actions of some people after the rally.
"The fact there were a number of groups of individuals after the protest that chose to act unlawfully is disappointing to us," he told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.
In a statement, NSW Police said a man had been charged with offensive behaviour and resist police following the altercation just after 6pm last night.
"As police attempted to move a group of people through the station after the conclusion of the rally, some individuals reportedly became aggressive," police said.
"When one man allegedly became violent, officers from the Public Order and Riot Squad (PORS) attempted to remove him and a struggle ensued.
"The 21-year-old was arrested and, after the group became increasingly aggressive, OC spray was deployed. Five people were subsequently treated at the scene for the effects of OC spray.
"The man, from Mt Druitt, was taken to Surry Hills Police Station where he has been charged with offensive behaviour and resist police. He's been granted strict conditional bail to appear in Downing Centre Local Court on August 27."
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#blacklivesmatter protest turns ugly in Sydney this afternoon after a small minority of people disobey police orders to leave Central Station. Riot squad officers used pepper spray and I was lucky to get out of there without a mouthful. #photooftheday #photojournalism #photography #protest #blm #sydney
MrLanyon told reporters this afternoon there were a number of violent incidents in Sydney last night.
"A police car had a half brick thrown at it that has caused damage to a panel. Police needed to form a line to move those people back from the vehicle and in doing so a number of items were thrown at police officers," he said.
"One police officer was struck in the face with a can of drink and had a cut to his face and a second police officer was also struck with a bottle. Those matters are currently under investigation and we are looking to put any persons before the court once we find sufficient evidence."
Mr Lanyon said that incident was before the pepper spray inside Central Station where he said police will allege some people "acted aggressively" towards officers.
"Police attempted to quell the situation and move those persons on, one of the males chose to act aggressively towards the police at which time he was placed under arrest," Mr Lanyon said.
"Subsequent to that arrest and because of the ongoing violence of the persons that were there, OC spray was deployed to curb that violence or the potential of it.
"I support the use of the capsicum spray and the way the police responded in order to ensure there was not further violence."
Mr Lanyon said the police officer who was cut by a can was nursing a "sore face" today but was otherwise OK.
"Police aren't punching bags and don't deserve to have this happen," he said.
"I expect our police to act with respect to the community and I certainly expect our community to act with respect back towards our police officers."
In Central Station last night, photos showed several protesters lying on the floor as first aid volunteers in high-vis vests moved in to pour water to their faces.
News.com.au also witnessed other protesters lying on the floor in pain.
It appears pepper spray may have been used at Central Station with @newscomauHQ observing several people on the floor of the concourse following the #blacklivesmatteraustralia rally. pic.twitter.com/1iGlNIDmfK— Benedict Brook (@BenedictBrook) June 6, 2020
Police then issued a formal "move on" order to protesters, warning them to leave the concourse at Central Station or get arrested.
Despite the pepper spray incident, NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said the small number of arrests was a "really positive result".
Thousands of people, many wearing masks, were already gathered in front of Sydney's Town Hall on Saturday when the NSW Court of Appeal declared the Stop All Black Deaths in Custody rally an authorised public assembly.
The decision, overturning a Supreme Court ruling on Friday night, gave protesters immunity from arrest for blocking roads along the planned route from Town Hall to Belmore Park.
About 5000 people were originally expected to rally in honour of George Floyd and Australian man David Dungay Jr, but NSW Police say 20,000 protesters turned out in Sydney.
Elsewhere around the country, protests remained peaceful with thousands of people attending.
Victoria Police praised people for their behaviour at Melbourne's Saturday protest - but said they will fine the organisers of the huge event.
"As of 5pm, there were no arrests made during the protest and we are not aware of any acts of violence or property damage," Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said.
"We remain concerned that such a large gathering has occurred without regard for the need to maintain social distance and will now consider what action should be taken in relation to the organisation and conduct of this unlawful gathering.
"Victoria Police will be issuing a $1652 infringement notice to the each of the organisers of the protest today for breaching the Chief Health Officer directions."
The South Australian capital will again see thousands of protesters today after about 5000 converged in Adelaide yesterday.
Thousands of people turned up to the protest wearing face masks, while volunteers offered hand sanitiser and encouraged people to practise social distancing.
Another group of protesters are expected to converge in Adelaide's Victoria Square today with the blessing of SA Police.
Commissioner Grant Stevens had on Friday given it an exemption from COVID-19 restrictions.
Thousands of people also flocked to inner-city Brisbane with crowds spilling from King George Square to neighbouring blocks.
People packed stairwells and balconies to get a view while others brandished signs calling for reform in Queensland and across the world.
Speakers, including elders, traditional owners and African Australians, detailed police brutality against members of their own families and the racism they had experienced.
"We rise together and we speak in one voice against racism ... and legislation that takes away our freedom in this country ... our right to have a voice, our right to be free," Wangan and Jagalingou man Adrian Burragubba said.
Originally published as 'We are not punching bags': Cops hit back