PORTLAND, Maine — City Manager Jon Jennings and Police Chief Frank Clark made appearances in the city’s fifth anti-racism rally since the death of George Floyd, taking knees as the protest’s black leaders delivered speeches Tuesday.
The crowd of about 1,000 people applauded when Jennings, on the protesters’ side of a police barricade, and Clark and several officers, on the opposite side and atop the police station’s steps, observed protesters’ appeal for the gesture of unity.
The peacefulness of Tuesday’s rally was in marked contrast with one on Monday in which police arrested 23 people as burglaries and criminal mischief occurred at several businesses in downtown areas as what was a calm gathering gradually escalated into protesters throwing water bottles and police firing pepper spray.
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The city officials’ gesture at the Tuesday rally appeared to clear some tension, allowing the group’s informal leadership to take turns addressing the crowd through a megaphone, hitting notes of anger, grief, solemnity and levity.
“I’m 24 and scared to have kids because I don’t know what will happen to them,” one organizer, a woman, said. “We’re really hurting and we’re human beings.”
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Monday’s escalations began after a tractor-trailer drove through the group that was gathered outside the police station at 9:30 p.m. Nobody was injured, but some protesters confronted the driver of the tractor trailer, Anthony McAfee of Massachusetts, who was charged with felony reckless conduct. All others arrested, who were from the Portland area and between the ages of 19 and 42, faced a misdemeanor charge of failing to disperse.
Tuesday’s protest stretched across the majority of the peninsula, as demonstrators marched loudly up Congress Street to the Eastern Promenade before laying in the street in observance of George Floyd’s death on May 25.
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At one point, the crowd shared in chants of “Say His Name! Ikey!” — a reference to Isahak Muse, who was born to Somali immigrants and killed by his girlfriend’s white brother in 2019.
Several residents of Portland’s East End came out of their homes to watch. Many cheered them on.
“It’s well past time for this to be recognized for what it is, peacefully,” said Ann-Marie Knoepfel, a white woman who stood on the steps of her Congress Street home as protesters marched up the hill.
Following the protest’s conclusion, a throng consisting of many new arrivals gathered again near the police station, where roughly 250 officers had blocked off the nearby intersection where Monday’s arrests took place.
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Most of this aftershock of Tuesday’s protest lacked the tension of Monday night’s standoff. Many stood idly, occasionally shouting at police, some asking them to “take a knee.” The sound of fireworks echoed from nearby streets, with a few thrown in the direction of police, who had formed an impassable line that stretched the width of the street and retaliated by firing pepper spray pellets at the agitators.
The group dispersed around midnight, when police leaders asked two men in the protest — one white, one black — to step forward and negotiate with them.
One of those was Daniel Johnson, a pastor from Auburn who arrived to the protests at 9 p.m. to “be a positive influence,” who described the negotiations to the BDN.
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“They basically said, Hey listen, our guys really don’t feel good about taking a knee,” Johnson said. “Earlier today we took a knee and that was a beautiful moment, but now we’ve had firecrackers and fireworks and water bottles thrown at us, and we don’t feel good about taking a knee. But we want to end peacefully.”
Johnson and the other man conveyed the message to the crowd.
“We turned around, we told people that, and said let’s start again tomorrow.”
BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to this report.
Watch: Police push back on protesters on Franklin Street in Portland