"It happens here too," says Rob Gaitau, about why he joined several thousand others for the Auckland rally against police brutality after the death of African American George Floyd in the United States.

Gaitau, of Samoan heritage, is talking about racism, about the way New Zealand's Māori and Pasifika communities are disproportionately affected by policing, much as the African American community is in the US.

The West Aucklander says he prefers to go grocery shopping with his Pākehā wife than alone, because that way he faces less tension, fewer stares, and less clutching of belongings.

He brought his two young boys along to Aotea Square for the Monday protest - "No justice, no peace," read the sign in 5-year-old Moses' arms as he sat atop his proud father's shoulders, with 10-year-old Noah close by.

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Rob Gaitau with his sons Noah (left), 10, and Moses, 5. Photo / Michael Neilson
Rob Gaitau with his sons Noah (left), 10, and Moses, 5. Photo / Michael Neilson

"We can't just sit at home when things like this happen, because it might happen here too," Gaitau said.

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Protests and riots have erupted across dozens of US cities after a disturbing video surfaced showing bystanders pleading with a white police officer kneeling on the neck of Floyd as he gasped for breath in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Floyd died after the incident, the latest in a string of deaths of black men and women at the hands of US police. The officer in question, Derek Chauvin​, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

People have been taking to the streets in protest and solidarity across the globe, including in Canada, Germany, and Britain.

Protestors in Christchurch gather against George Floyd killing. VIDEO / Emily Crawley.

In New Zealand events on Monday were peaceful, despite an estimated 4000 people gathering in Auckland, and smaller protests in Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

In Wellington one man tied himself to the fence of the US Embassy after a vigil attended by about 500 people.

In Auckland, ahead of the rally organisers said they wanted 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".

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The crowd heard from speakers including Kainee Simone, originally from America, who urged the public to be wary of moves to arm police in New Zealand, and to listen to black, brown and Māori people when they spoke about discrimination.

UFC Fighter Israel Adesanya during the protest held in the Auckland CBD. Photo / Dean Purcell
UFC Fighter Israel Adesanya during the protest held in the Auckland CBD. Photo / Dean Purcell

Mazbou Q, a musician and organiser, said what was going on in the US was not just about Floyd, but about the ongoing persecution of the black community.

"The same white supremacy which has led to disproportionate killings of black people in the US exists here in New Zealand."

Others spoke of the "militarisation of the New Zealand police", and its disproportionate effect on Māori and Pacific Island communities.

Māori are nearly eight times more likely than Pākehā to be on the receiving end of police force.

One of the more than 4000 protesters who made their way down Queen St towards the United States Consulate on Monday. Photo / Dean Purcell
One of the more than 4000 protesters who made their way down Queen St towards the United States Consulate on Monday. Photo / Dean Purcell

Between 2009 and 2019, two-thirds of all those shot by police were Māori or Pasifika.

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Māori are also nearly six times more likely to come into contact with police than Pākehā; police are nearly twice as likely to take legal action against Māori than Pākehā; and police are seven times more likely to charge a Māori person with a crime, even when that person has no police or Department of Corrections record.

Mixed martial arts star Israel Adesenya spoke of discrimination he experienced in some of Auckland's upmarket suburbs.

"They're trying to militarise the New Zealand police. Let's squash that s**t straight away," he said.

More than 4000 protesters making their way down Queen St towards the United States Consulate on Monday. Photo / Dean Purcell
More than 4000 protesters making their way down Queen St towards the United States Consulate on Monday. Photo / Dean Purcell

The crowd fell silent for a minute to honour Floyd, and but as they marched down Queen St chants of "No justice, no peace!" and "Black lives matter" erupted.

Police presence was minimal, with a sole car at the front of the protest, helping clear the way.

Many protesters held banners and signs saying "Justice for Floyd", and "ArmsDownNZ", a reference to opposing the New Zealand police trial of armed response teams.

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Among them was a three-generation bubble including Carly Frances, with her daughters and mokopuna.

"It is absolutely disgusting," she said, about the police brutality in the US.

"It is important we take a stand on this, because we don't want our police to ever be armed here."

There were some colourful banners on display during the protest. Photo / Dean Purcell
There were some colourful banners on display during the protest. Photo / Dean Purcell

Despite constant calls from organisers for social distancing, people were gathered close due to the sheer immensity of the crowd.

Images of the crowded protest drew criticism, including from Act leader David Seymour who said it was an "insult" to every New Zealander who followed alert level 2 restrictions, which included a 100-person limit on gatherings.

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A spokesman for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declined to comment on the demonstrations or Floyd's death.

Thousands of people took part in the Auckland demonstration against the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd. Photo / Dean Purcell
Thousands of people took part in the Auckland demonstration against the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd. Photo / Dean Purcell

Police also declined to comment on whether they intended to enforce or had concerns over the crowded march.

Black Lives Matter Solidarity Auckland organiser Shalene Williams said they did their best to encourage social distancing, and for people to wear masks.

Carly Frances, right, with her daughters and granddaughters during the protest.
Carly Frances, right, with her daughters and granddaughters during the protest. "We don't want our police to ever be armed," she said. Photo / Michael Neilson

They were "blown away" at the response overall, she said.

"There was so much love and support, from police as well, meeting our intention of having a peaceful and respectful march.

"It is a testament to the trauma everyone is feeling and how important the issue is.

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"People will no longer be silenced."