PORTLAND, Maine — Roughly 250 supporters rallied outside the Portland police station before coursing through Congress Street and delivering poems and speeches at City Hall Saturday evening.
The protest, organized by a collective of Maine youth activists using the banner Black Lives Matter — Maine, decried racial injustice and police brutality following this week’s grand jury decision in the case related to the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who police officers fatally shot around 12:40 a.m. in a no-knock warrant raid at her Louisville home in March.
Plans for the rally were announced shortly after Wednesday’s grand jury decision, setting off a social media skirmish between organizers and Portland police, who claimed in a public statement issued Friday night that organizers had not responded to their outreach attempts. Rally organizers swiftly denied that claim. Josh Wood, a youth activist, said he spoke with an officer and provided evidence he phoned police Wednesday evening an hour after the group received a request to do so.
Wood appeared at the rally, among its leaders, leading the group in an original chant in the early going: “From Portland to Portland, we are here to stay. We will fight for freedom, every single day.”
As dusk approached Saturday evening, the protest proceeded without drama. As rally goers grew to roughly 200 outside the police station in the Old Port, they were joined by a brass band and marched the city’s main streets for half an hour. Workers at area stores and patrons dining at outdoor patio tables raised their arms in support as they marched by.
At 5:45 p.m., the group collected at City Hall Plaza. There, the group’s organizers — Black young people in their teens and early 20s — shared poems and delivered speeches, flanked by police cars cordoning off the road.
“We are the generation that’s going to make change,” one organizer said to cheers.
A small cluster of half a dozen people gathered on an opposite sidewalk, attempting to goad those on the fringes of the rally into conflict. “Come and get it,” one shouted.
After dusk, the protest convened once more at the police station, where several young people gave rousing speeches before a visual backdrop of the words “Dismantle White Supremacy” and “Black Lives Matter” projected onto the station from across the street. They snaked through the Old Port once more, where chants of “No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist U.S.A.!” washed over the conversations of diners on outdoor patios.
At one point, someone dropped at least two rounds of fireworks onto the rally from the window of an apartment building at the foot of Exchange Street, across from where patrons were dining outside The Bar, an Exchange Street eatery. The fireworks caused a momentary disruption but no one was hurt. The group reconvened at City Hall Plaza just after 8 p.m. and dispersed.
Chief Frank Clark said Sunday morning that having conversations with organizers is “always helpful in terms of safety, demonstration of a willingness to collaborate, and planning for crowd size and intended movements and direction.”
Clark said he was “thankful that the protesters and counter protesters all remained peaceful last night.”
A similar rally scheduled by the same organizers, one of several groups to have organized under the Black Lives Manner tag this summer, was earlier in September was canceled after the group received racist threats and calls for armed vigilante opposition.