Thousands of people marched in several cities in New Zealand on Monday, chanting “black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe,” in protests of solidarity against the death of George Floyd, police brutality, and structural racism. The protests also highlighted the issue of what activist groups say is the disproportionate effect of armed policing on indigenous communities in New Zealand.
In Auckland, photographs and video posted on social media showed thousands of people marching along city streets and kneeling with raised fists in Aotea Square, in the center of the city, before moving on to the U.S. consulate. In Christchurch, hundreds gathered in the rain. And in Wellington, the nation’s capital, a crowd amassed outside the parliament building as night fell, chanting slogans and raising signs.
On Queen Street in Auckland, a group of protesters performed a haka, the traditional Maori ceremonial dance.
Meanwhile dozens of cities across the U.S. faced a sixth night of standoffs between demonstrators and police, with fires burning outside the White House, a confederate monument torn down in Birmingham, Alabama, and the national guard activated in at least 21 states nationwide.
The protests in New Zealand were condemned by the deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters, who said they violated the country’s social distancing rules and called the protesters “a small group who think they know better than everyone else.” (New Zealand has been praised for successfully containing its COVID-19 outbreak, with just 1,154 confirmed cases and 22 deaths.)
The protests were peaceful throughout, with police present but keeping their distance, according to reports.
But the news from the U.S. has also sparked tensions in New Zealand over the disproportionate effect of armed policing on indigenous communities, amid a push within the country for more police to carry deadly weapons. Police in the country are not routinely armed, but after the Christchurch shooting in March 2019, when 51 people were killed by a white supremacist terrorist who targeted two mosques in the city, police conducted a six-month trial where some officers were given guns, in order to respond more quickly to similar attacks. The trial ended in April, with a review in progress.
A protest group, Arms Down NZ, has raised concerns about the disproportionate impact of armed policing on New Zealand’s Māori and Pacific communities, who make up 6% and 4% of the population, respectively. Police say no shots were fired by the specific officers armed during the trial.
In a statement to TIME, a spokesperson for Arms Down NZ drew links between the experience of African Americans and indigenous communities on the other side of the world. “The thousands of Maori and Pasifika [Pacific] people marching today saw, in Floyd George’s dying gasps, the deaths of our own people at the hands of our own government. We marched to defend Black Lives overseas and to fight for our own lives against our own racist police,” the statement said.
“The New Zealand Police is attempting to institute a policy of patrolling Maori neighbourhoods armed with automatic rifles,” the statement continued. “Despite Prime Minister [Jacinda] Ardern’s international popularity, her government discriminates against indigenous New Zealanders…Ardern’s police force is almost eight times more likely to use violence against Maori New Zealanders than against White ones.” (According to the group, Pacific people are three times more likely to be victims of police violence than white New Zealanders.)
The hashtag #ArmsDownNZ was trending on Twitter in New Zealand on Monday.
The Green Party, which is in government in coalition with Ardern, issued a statement on Monday morning. “Today and every day we stand in solidarity with George Floyd’s family, friends and community who feel pain and fear about his untimely death at the hands of Minneapolis police,” Green Party Co-leader and Māori Development spokesperson Marama Davidson said in the statement. “These deaths occur 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.”
The party’s justice spokesperson, Golriz Ghahraman added: “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. This means that Māori experience more arrests, more prosecutions, longer jail sentences, more brutality, and deaths, than Pākehā in similar circumstances.”
There were also protests in Perth, Australia, amid renewed scrutiny over the high number of deaths of Aboriginal Australians in police custody there. A protest planned for Tuesday in Sydney was canceled after threats of violence, according to the Associated Press.
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