PORTLAND, Maine — Roughly 2,000 Mainers turned out for an anti-racism protest Friday night, the eighth protest in as many days in Greater Portland and the largest such gathering yet in that time span.
Friday’s protest was the first in the city organized by Black Lives Matter Portland, a nascent collective of longtime racial justice activists in the city. The group surged on the momentum built by the week’s earlier protests, which twice lapsed into disorder after a series of escalations punctuated by otherwise successful protests Monday and Tuesday night.
Black Lives Matter organizers appeared to foreclose that unpredictability early on Friday night, telling attendees as they gathered in Lincoln Park to expect to march until 1 a.m. — eight hours of protest for the more than eight minutes that a Minneapolis police officer held his knee to George Floyd’s neck on May 25, resulting in his death by asphyxia and sparking an uprising against racism and police violence throughout the U.S.
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“This is going to be hard,” one organizer said. “But we’re going to do it together.”
To help keep the protest going, the group brought their own safety marshals, who wore orange armbands, and had pizza, snacks and water bottles available for protesters. They also had an American Sign Language team to interpret for the deaf community during the event.
Before they would crisscross the city, Black Lives Matter’s leadership read from a mission statement of values and objectives — including removing school resource officers and other police presence from schools, establishing a COVID-19 equity task force, and shifting city budget allocations from policing and incarceration programs and toward social services.
The group also called for the “immediate dismissal” of City Manager Jon Jennings, who they said “criminalized poverty,” privatized social services and “repeatedly advocated for policies that hurt poor, black and brown people” in the city.
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The group began marching at 6 p.m., coursing the city’s major arteries and collecting on Commercial Street, where some restaurants were serving a limited form of dinner service on outdoor patios. They shouted the names of Floyd and other black Americans killed by police, including Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland and David Okot, the latter a Sudanese immigrant fatally shot by a Portland police officer in 2009.
On Commercial Street, organizers directed the mass to lay their bodies on the ground, filling the street for half a dozen blocks. They remained in stunning silence, prone for more than 10 minutes, a dramatic evocation of the scene of Floyd’s killing.
Police were less visibly present as the group took once again to march the city streets, dancing, singing and loudly chanting at the police station and a major intersection at High and Congress streets before heading to Deering Oaks Park. By 9 p.m., the group gathered there, with little attrition, as elected officials like Rachel Talbot Ross delivered speeches along with the organizers’ black leadership.
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Ross noted the large protest turnout in Portland on the same day that President Donald Trump, who many activists have accused of racism, was in Maine visiting a medical swab manufacturing facility in Guilford — eliciting a mass chorus of boos from the protestors.
“Maine, get your house in order,” Ross said.
The protests surged back up Congress Street and collected at City Hall, where the group projected the words “We Can’t Breathe” onto the building and rearticulated demands. At 1 a.m. organizers sent everyone home and the group dispersed, with few if any police officers in sight.
“We are not second-class citizens anymore. We are first-class citizens. We are kings and queens,” one organizer said.
Watch: Portland sees Maine’s largest rally over George Floyd