NEWCASTLE echoed to the chant of "Black Lives Matter" as thousands marched through the city on Saturday to protest against racism and Aboriginal deaths in custody.
The rally began at Pacific Park where an estimated crowd of 3500 heard that "oppression must end today" and was told the story of Rebecca Maher, who didn't commit a crime but died in a police cell in Maitland in 2016.
Police estimated the crowd swelled to about 5000 as protesters marched through the city and gathered at Civic Park.
As they neared the park, the crowd laid face down on King Street for nine minutes with their hands behind their backs, in reference to the death of US man George Floyd, who died after being detained by police in Minneapolis on May 25.
The crowd at Pacific Park did its best to observe social distancing measures amid concern about the coronavirus, spreading out and spilling on to the streets as residents looked down from balconies in surrounding apartment buildings.
Almost everyone in attendance wore face masks. Many people carried signs demanding justice and an end to racism as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of all ages gathered in support of the global Black Lives Matter movement, in response to Floyd's death.
While Floyd's death triggered violence and chaos across the United States, the Newcastle gathering was peaceful and incident free.
Speakers told the crowd "this is a peaceful gathering, violence is not acceptable, violence is what brought us here".
Police reported no incidents of violence, no injuries, no arrests and no damage to property.
There were moments of silence at Pacific Park as the crowd was asked to kneel in a moment of solidarity and reflection, and all that could be heard were the lorikeets in the trees and the waves crashing at Newcastle beach.
But the quiet gave way to demands for justice and for change as chants of "Black Lives Matter" thundered through the park and then through the city as thousands marched to Civic Park.
"Our culture is a gift but it's not being received," Brian Dowd told the crowd.
"We're treated like worthless garbage. We've got to change everything. Black lives matter. My life matters. Our lives matter. But all lives are not being treated the same way.
"We need to come together.
"I see people power here. Black fellas next to white fellas. We are all one people."
Worimi man and University of Newcastle professor John Maynard opened the rally, saying the problems of racism and violence were not confined to America, citing the deaths of more than 430 Indigenous Australians in custody since 1991.
"What is going on?" he said.
"It's great to see people gathering for justice and recognition that we need to change."
The crowd raised fists and chanted "Black Lives Matter". It cried out "shame" as it heard speakers tell the crowd "we can no longer sit by and accept officers having a bad day", a reference to NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller's comments earlier in the week about a policeman who kicked an Indigenous teenager off his feet.
The officers on duty, and all police, were called on "to stand with us today".
Newcastle City Police District commander Superintendent Brett Greentree said he was "very pleased" with the behaviour of the protesters and "very proud of the professionalism" of the police in attendance.
Supt Greentree said there were no arrests, injuries or incidents.
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