Elena Clifford (from left) Marady Parr and Ashanti Haywood kneel along with a crowd of about 200 in Yarmouth on Monday night in memory of George Floyd. The gesture was part if a community dialogue forum on racism held in front of the town hall.

YARMOUTH, Maine — About 200 people gathered on a green space in front of the Town Hall Monday night for a community forum on racism and bigotry. Prompted by the recent police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, the quiet, contemplative affair was in marked contrast to last week’s raucous protest marches in Portland, Augusta, Sanford and Lewiston.

Residents seated on blankets and lawn chairs listed to the police chief, politicians and local people of color speak about their experiences. Then anyone who wished to speak or asked questions was invited to the microphone.

The crowd also lit candles and knelt for eight minutes — the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck. There was no chanting or marching.

First to speak was Yarmouth Police Chief Daniel Gallant. Reading from a statement, Gallant said his department was deeply troubled by the actions of the Minneapolis police officers who held Floyd face down on the ground until he died.

“It would also be wrong for us to stand silent or to avert our eyes from the underlying racial bias and discrimination, long-standing and systemic inequality of treatment under the law, and social and economic injustices against people of color and other minorities and individuals,” Gallant said.

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Local resident Carla Hunt also spoke. She recounted her African-American son’s first encounters with racism when her family lived in an affluent Seattle suburb very similar to Yarmouth.

“Before we claim that we are anti-racist, let’s look around,” Hunt said. “Are we? How do we know that the next Trayvon Martin or George Floyd won’t be right here in Yarmouth?”

Ashanti Haywood, a former student at Yarmouth High School, spoke about what it was like growing up African-American in an overwhelmingly white town.

“Let me tell you the truth about Yarmouth and its covert racism,” Haywood said. “People like having a trophy black kid around them [but] the n-word and racism has been constant.”

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Nationally known writer, speaker and Yarmouth resident Abdi Iftin spoke as well. Iftin gained fame six years ago when he was featured in an hour-long “This American Life” story syndicated on National Public Radio.

Growing up in Somalia, he said that racism in the United States never crossed his mind. It just wasn’t something he contemplated. That changed the moment he landed in Boston on Aug. 9, 2014 — the day Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri.

“I still believe America is the land of magnificent possibilities,” Iftin said, wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt. “But America is betraying its own destiny — and my American dream.”

Iftin ended his comments on a more hopeful note.

“Were upset, we’re furious. What happened in Minneapolis is traumatic. It scares us all,” he said. “What we need is justice and solidarity — what we’re doing tonight is that kind of thing.”

Watch: Police departments speak on recent Portland protests

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.