Comparing The Anti-Lockdown Protests To The BLM Movement Is Dangerous And Wrong
"BLM protest was about the rights of people, the Sydney protest was about not wanting to be in lockdown..."
In defending Sydney’s anti-lockdown protests on Saturday, some have dangerously drawn comparisons to the international Black Lives Matter movement that happened around this time last year.
Nationals MP George Christensen, who attended a rally in Queensland over the weekend, jumped on the disillusionment bandwagon to preach against what he sees as “removal of freedoms under the guise of the pandemic”.
“Remember when the authorities and fake news media gave BLM protests in Australia a free pass because they couldn’t have possibly spread COVID-19 outdoors?” he said.
People who are financially and mentally suffering in lockdown, and feel dismayed by government leadership to see them through the other side, continue to be taken advantage of by right-wing, anti-vaxx, and conspiracist groups needing numbers to cause unrest during an already challenging time.
It isn’t hypocritical to have supported last year’s Black Lives Matter protest and condemn the recent anti-lockdown shenanigans — claiming otherwise feeds the misinformation that spurred the weekend’s events.
Law And Order
For starters, Sydney’s anti-lockdown protest was illegal and breached the city’s current public health order. Protests are able to go ahead right now with a COVID-19 safety plan, but police had no legal recourse to stop people showing up on Saturday because no one sought permission to gather.
“There are no organisers that we can take to the Supreme Court to stop the protests happening, which means they’re a bunch of anarchists,” NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said, in preparation for a follow-up anti-lockdown protest.
Obviously the situation in June last year wasn’t as grim — we weren’t facing the Delta variant that’s “a gold medallist when it comes to jumping from one person to another” according to the state Health Minister Brad Hazzard. An estimated 3500 people rubbing shoulders outdoors over the weekend.
Admittedly, it was hard to get Sydney’s Black Lives Matter vigil and protest the green light to go ahead last year. The Supreme Court had initially imposed a last minute injunction to stop it going ahead on the day of, in fear of any gatherings taking place during the pandemic. It was soon overturned by the NSW Court of Appeal and lawfully went ahead.
People whinging about double standards with BLM protests & Yesterday’s protests, you need to realise, BLM served purpose, there is ZERO purpose in a lockdown protest. You can’t compare the 2, yesterday was just plain selfish #sydneyprotest #COVID19nsw
— Koz (@MatthewKosarew) July 25, 2021
War And Peace
“What took us by surprise and what disappoints me so greatly is the level of violence that people were prepared to use. That was unprecedented. That’s not Sydney,” NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon said the next day.
Over 50 people have been charged so far. An additional 200 infringement notices, 100 fines related to the event, and 10,000 calls have been made to CrimeStoppers to report protesters, according to SBS.
There is a gulf between peaceful protest whilst observing health orders (masks, social distancing), and what we saw in Sydney yesterday.
Violence is never acceptable, and we all have a responsibility to be good citizens; to help each other. So many have given up so much.
— Anthony Brown (@brown_ant) July 25, 2021
Last year’s BLM protest was largely described as peaceful, at least on the activists’ end. Protestors were compliant and the three-hour protest went smoothly. It was only when people tried to leave that officers pushed a large group into the confined, underground space of Central Station, where an estimated 40-60 people were pepper sprayed and four arrested.
Large groups of people gathering during the lock down and the police knew that this was going to happen!? 😡 Last year they tear gassed the BLM march and we had about 5% of the covid cases that we have now. How was this allowed to happen!? Those poor horses 😢#sydneyprotest https://t.co/1d1rdIjK35
— 💫 🥔 🐌 𝓑𝓾𝓷 𝓑𝓾𝓷 (Buntato) 🇦🇺 🐇 💜 (@SteemyBonBon) July 24, 2021
On June 6 last year, tens of thousands protested in front of Sydney Town Hall off the back of restrictions that were starting to lift after the city’s first lockdown. The gathering wasn’t linked to any rise in community transmission, with the key difference being the precautions taken by the crowd, as well as dedicated marshals who offered hand sanitiser, check-in codes, and disposable masks.
— Raves 🐀 (@RavenZech2) July 25, 2021
“Most protesters heeded a call from organisers to cover their faces, creating a sea of mask-clad faces that was unprecedented in Australia given face coverings are not mandated by state or federal governments,” The Guardian reported at the time.
The whole point of Saturday’s protest was to rebel against ‘repressive’ (read: lifesaving) measures like masks and lockdowns — it didn’t seem to occur to the thousands of mostly mask-less individuals that by choosing to gather in such large numbers they might actually cause the lockdown to be extended.
The irony of protesting an end to lockdown by not wearing a mask, protesting alongside hundreds of others, and screaming/ spreading droplets everywhere.
Let’s just hope no one in these Sydney protests has coronavirus.
— Eden Gillespie (@edengillespie) July 24, 2021
An epidemiologist has warned that the event has a “real risk” of being a super-spreader event that we might not know the full effects of until it’s too late, especially if the people in attendance don’t follow recommendations to immediately get tested.
“We don’t want a setback, and [the anti-lockdown protest] could have been a setback. Time will tell,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
It’ll be a while before the repercussions of Sydney’s anti-lockdown protest are felt, but will no doubt play a role in the number of cases, as well as the length and severity of the city’s second stay-at-home order.
Comparing the two, polar opposite movements is simply naive and unfair.
Photo Credit: Don Arnold/Getty Images