Recap: Thousands march in Auckland, hundreds gather in Wellington for Black Lives Matter

7:47 pm on 1 June 2020

Thousands of New Zealanders today in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin took part in Black Lives Matter solidarity events.

Thousands marched down Auckland's main strip today in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and to protest armed police in New Zealand. In Christchurch people gathered at a rally and in the capital hundreds have turned out in the rain for an evening vigil.

Speaking at the media briefing ahead of the march in Auckland, organisers told the crowd "This is not for clout".

"We will stand in solidarity to show Black Lives Matter. It's not only about George Floyd, the persecution of the black community is an ongoing issue."

As it happened:

Protests have been held in more than 30 cities across the US and throughout the world after disturbing video surfaced showing bystanders pleading with a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, as he gasped for breath. Floyd died after the incident, the latest in a string of deaths of black men and women at the hands of US police.

Placards being prepared at the Auckland Black Lives Matter March for Solidarity.

Placards being prepared at the Auckland Black Lives Matter March for Solidarity. Photo: RNZ / Mabel Muller

Many of protests in American cities have begun peacefully, but erupted into riots, with buildings being set on fire, and stores and businesses looted and vandalised, and thousands of police and National Guards brought in to combat the unrest.

Organisers of the Auckland march would not comment until early afternoon today, but online said; "We can't sit by and watch people suffer without doing anything.

"The aim of the protest is simple: we want to put pressure on our government from the local level, right up to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to publicly condemn the acts of violence and state-sanctioned murder against African Americans in the United States."

The event has been backed by celebrities, including mixed martial arts fighter Israel Adesanya, and choreographer and dancer Parris Goebel, who posted the event to her Instagram.

She said: "NZ stand up. If you are as frustrated and heartbroken as I am ... will you get up and march with us?"

University of Auckland microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles used Twitter to urge participants to take Covid-19 precautions - including not attending at all if they showed any symptoms.

The event was also intended to draw attention to "the militarisation of the New Zealand police", the oragnisers said in the Facebook event listing.

The police Armed Response Teams trials began last year in Auckland, Waikato and Canterbury, but serious questions have arisen about

issues with the trials, and a lack of consultation before their launch.

They have been criticised by Māori leaders, who say institutional racism affects policing, and the mix is a serious risk when police are regularly armed.

The trials finished in April, but critics are concerned they could become permanent. Since the death of George Floyd the hashtag #ArmsDownNZ has trended on Twitter in New Zealand.

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Photo: RNZ / Mabel Muller

Emmy Rakete, Arms Down NZ organiser, said: "We've seen how America's cops act with firearms. We know New Zealand's cops engage in rampant racist discrimination against Māori and Pacific people.

"We must resist police militarisation or we will see American-style racist killings by the cops."

In a statement responding to a request for an interview, police said they were aware of the planned protest and had made contact with organisers to remind them of alert level 2 restrictions on gatherings.

"The role of police is to ensure the safety of all and uphold the law, while recognising the lawful right to protest.

"Police Commissioner Andrew Coster is fundamentally committed to keeping New Zealand a generally unarmed service. The trial of the Armed Response Team has finished and is now being evaluated. The ARTs did not fire a shot during the six month trial."

Police have been contacted for comment.

Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha has previously told RNZ the Armed Response Teams are a new iteration of the existing Armed Offenders Squad, and the difference is that they are immediately available and on patrol, so able to respond quicker - rather than on call.

"We are very much aware that there is a need to ensure we have the balance right between keeping our communities safe and the need to keep our staff safe."

Auckland Transport said there were no planned road closures for events today.

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