Thousands of people have marched at Black Lives Matter rallies in Auckland and Wellington this afternoon.

The Auckland march, which started at Aotea Square, headed down Queen St and ended at the US consulate, where protesters took a knee and observed a minute of silence for George Floyd.

The Auckland rally opened with a karakia at Aotea Square and a mihi whakatau by Graham Tipene, of Ngāti Whātua, who told the crowd to "keep it peaceful".

"Our kids are here, so let's do it right and fight for what's right."

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There were some counter-protesters, including some who yelled out "all lives matter" during speeches, but those there for the BLM gathering were told to ignore them, or to take a knee if they saw them.

Protesters wait for the start of the Black Lives Matter rally in Aotea Square in Auckland. Photo / RNZ
Protesters wait for the start of the Black Lives Matter rally in Aotea Square in Auckland. Photo / RNZ

Members of the Ethiopian and Somalian communities addressed the crowd on the Black Lives Matter movement, along with social justice campaigner Julia Whaipooti, who talked about the use of armed police in predominantly Māori and Pasifika areas.

"For many of us this is not a new moment in time, not a hashtag on Instagram."

Whaipooti acknowledged police brutality in the United States, and likened it to what happens here.

"We have to acknowledge and look at what are the oppressive natures of power that we are seeing in our own whenua," she said.

"We cannot shine a light over there and send aroha and close a blind eye to what is happening here on our whenua as well.

"We are rooted also in a history that was built off white supremacy and colonisation. When we look at the numbers, the New Zealand police are six times more likely to fire a gun at Māori, nine times more likely to shoot a taser at Māori, 10 times to let a dog loose," she said.

Emilie Rakete, from People Against Prisons Aotearoa and the Arms Down movement, also spoke about armed police and said the "truth is that we live on a graveyard in Aotearoa", with NZ police laying down the bodies.

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"When the cops say hands up, we say arms down."

Organisers then led the crowd in a chant: "Ain't no power like the power of the people because the power of the people won't stop!'

Auckland based Somali-NZ rapper Mo Muse performed a piece written in the past two weeks, saying "they love to profit off our pain".

"Tell Winston Peters he can see me in hell coz we won't be silenced."

AUT academic Camille Nakhid, who studied police discrimination against the African community in New Zealand, said racism was the knee on the neck of Māori, Pasifika and other communities of colour in New Zealand.

"Everything is talking and thinking about the murder of George Floyd in the US and the knee that was on his neck. But I want to talk about the knees on our neck, the black indigenous people of colour in Aotearoa".

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She said things such as putting students into lower streams in schools, lower standards of health and the uplifting of children were the knees upon the neck of people of colour in this country.

"This protest is because we love who we are. Do not let them turn our love into hate against each other.

"We have to remain awake because we need to get those knees off our neck."

Will Ilolahia, a founding member of the Polynesian Panthas, told the crowd they were "a part of history" and that pulling down monuments was a side issue to the greater problem.

He said those seeking change should not be despondent at the slow rate of transformation.

"Aotearoa and the rest of the world is going to be changed by you. Not me, I've done my time."

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He joked that he had to use cue cards to read his speech because he'd had too many batons and 2x4s to the head.

Ilolahia told the protesters not to just stand by if they witnessed racism - "change it, because that's what the revolution is all about".

"We're going to work together from now on and that's why I'm labelling you as part of history because we're going to change this place to be a better place."

In Wellington, close to 3000 protesters are marching from Civic Square to Parliament.

Lambton Quay is flooded with those showing solidarity.

Traffic is being diverted away from the street as the march arrives at Parliament.

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"This is not a moment, this a movement," one speaker said outside Parliament.

The crowd of thousands erupted into applause and cheers.

"The future is us," the crowd said back.

"The future is change, the future is us, the future is freedom," the crowd can be heard chanting.

The Black Lives Matter march heading to Parliament. Photo / Jason Walls
The Black Lives Matter march heading to Parliament. Photo / Jason Walls

"No armed police," is another chant echoing through Wellington streets.

The march has been organised by a group of community advocates, including Guled Mire.

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Mire says the march is intended to unify cultures and highlight issues of racism and inequality in New Zealand in a peaceful way.

Mire was expecting up to 5000 people to attend the march.

Organisers have asked those attending to remain peaceful and refrain from offensive language.

They say the march is intended to show solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement, and to "stand against racism locally, nationally and globally".