Thousands in New Zealand protest against George Floyd killing

Speakers highlight racism against Indigenous people and call on Ardern to denounce killing

Protesters demonstrate against the killing of George Floyd in Auckland, New Zealand, on 1 June. Photograph: Michael Bradley/AFP/Getty Images

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders have come out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, after the death of George Floyd in the US.

At least four solidarity gatherings were held in the country on Monday afternoon, with massive crowds taking to their knees in the Auckland demonstration.

Tens of thousands marched from Aotea Square, in central Auckland, to the American embassy, carrying signs with messages such as “Be kind”, “Silence is Betrayal” and “Do Better, Be Better”.

Earlier, as speakers called for the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to denounce the killing of Floyd as a hate crime, many in the crowd took to one knee. Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest and most ethnically diverse city, with more than 40% of the city identifying as something other than Pakeha (European New Zealander).

Those in attendance broke the government’s coronavirus physical distancing regulations, as well as the ban on any public gatherings above 100 people, currently in place as New Zealand enters the final phase of suppressing the outbreak. The deputy prime minister, Winston Peters, denounced the protests for hijacking New Zealand’s Covid-19 plan.

Despite the charged atmosphere, the gathering remained peaceful throughout, and police kept their distance.

Speakers called on Ardern to denounce the killing of Floyd as a hate crime, and show similar leadership as she did following the mass murders of 15 March last year, when a lone gunman killed 51 worshippers in a Christchurch mosque.

“Jacinda Ardern, denounce the racial killing of blacks in America as a hate crime,” one African American speaker said.

The protests against police brutality have resonated strongly in New Zealand, and the hashtag #armsdownNZ has been trending for days, calling for a police trial of armed patrols to be shelved permanently.

Police officers in the island country of 5 million people do not routinely carry weapons unless part of the armed offenders squad or attending a terrorist or gun-violence-related callout.

The Green party MP Marama Davidson says deaths such as Floyd’s occur within a justice system ‘with a deeply embedded culture of systemic racism and violence’. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

The Green party, a coalition partner of Jacinda Ardern’s centre-left government, issued a strongly worded statement on Monday, throwing its support behind the Black Lives Matter movement and drawing attention to endemic racism faced by Māori and Pasifika people, who are overrepresented in prison numbers, and confront an entrenched, endemic disadvantage in health, housing and education on a daily basis, among other socioeconomic indicators.

The Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, a former Iranian refugee and human rights lawyer, said discrimination against people of colour was common in New Zealand. “The disease of state-based discrimination is not constrained to American borders. We must acknowledge that here in New Zealand, at every single step of the justice system, #Māori face increased #discrimination,” Ghahraman said.

“The death of George Floyd is being felt around the world, encapsulating raw injustice that comes from centuries of oppression. We must learn from his death and prioritise the work to eliminate systemic racism from our police and justice systems. This is an essential step towards keeping our communities safer.”

The Green party co-leader and Māori development spokesperson, Marama Davidson, said deaths such as Floyd’s occured within a justice system “with a deeply embedded culture of systemic racism and violence. These deaths are built on centuries of injustices and social inequities.”

“Today and every day we stand in solidarity with George Floyd’s family, friends and community,” she said.

Other prominent Māori New Zealanders also weighed in.

The Hollywood choreographer Parris Goebel, a South Aucklander of Pacific descent, helped organise the largest of the protests in Auckland’s Aotea Square. Goebel described herself as “frustrated and heartbroken” by the events unfolding in the US. 

“It is easy to sit back and watch all of this on your phone from the other side of the world, but will you get up and march with us?” she said.

Arms Down NZ organisers said they had been hearing from people “across Aotearoa [the Māori name for New Zealand], telling us their fears about the armed police patrols”, and members of the African community also told media they had long felt they were persecuted by the police and faced institutional racism on a daily basis.

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