A large crowd of protesters marched through downtown Portland throughout Friday night and into early Saturday morning, continuing a weeklong demonstration of outrage about institutional racism and police brutality since the death of a black man in Minneapolis police custody.
The protesters lay facedown in waves along Commercial Street before gathering outside the police station Friday evening, chanting “black lives matter” at high volume. They later listened to impassioned speeches in Deering Oaks that focused on racial injustice.
About 1,000 protesters gathered late in the afternoon in Lincoln Park, and the crowd grew larger as the night wore on before diminishing again. Police did not have an estimate of the crowd’s size at its peak, but said it was the largest to date.
Organizers began speaking shortly before 6 p.m. in Lincoln Park, demanding an end to drug-related sentencing laws that disproportionately affect minorities. They also called for the defunding of police and the dismissal of Portland’s city manager for “policies that hurt poor and black and brown people.”
The protesters moved out from the park at about 6:15 p.m., chanting “black lives matter” as they headed east along Congress Street and then down India Street toward the waterfront.
As the marchers moved along Commercial Street all the way to Cross Street, restaurant patrons came out to watch, some filming with their cellphones as protesters knelt with their fists in the air.
The protesters then began lying facedown in the street, hands together behind their backs. In a wavelike movement, they lay down one by one, filling the street for block after block.
After about eight minutes of silence – the length of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck – an organizer spoke. “Don’t look up,” she said through a megaphone. “You can’t get up. This is what it feels like to be black every day.”
About 7 p.m., the protesters moved up Cross Street and then gathered outside the police station on Middle Street, where they began chanting. Police had set up barricades on the steps to the station and some were wearing riot gear.
Just after 8 p.m., the growing crowd of protesters marched toward Congress Street. Stretching along several city blocks, they chanted the names of black people killed by police but also one – Isahak Muse – who died at the hands of a white civilian. Muse, 22, was shot and killed in March 2019 in Portland’s Riverton neighborhood by Mark Cardilli Jr., 25, who was later found guilty of manslaughter.
The protesters later converged on Deering Oaks, where they listened to speeches, including from members of Survivor Speak, a Maine-based aid organization for sex trafficking victims, and a state legislator.
“The police have treated me like a criminal rather than a victim,” said Tiara Ross, advocacy coordinator for Survivor Speak, who said that that some Maine police officers had harassed her without cause. “When I would go to stores and plazas, they would follow me in their cruisers. I am tired.”
The organization’s founder, Dee Clarke, noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that black and brown women are targets of trafficking at higher rates than whites. “When black lives matter,” she said, pausing for effect as the crowd began to cheer, “when black lives truly matter, everyone will be at peace.”
Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, gave a fiery speech, calling on Senate President Troy Jackson, House Speaker Sara Gideon and Gov. Janet Mills, all fellow Democrats, to act to protect people of color or else “we vote them out.”
— Derek Davis (@derek_ddavis) June 5, 2020
The crowd sang happy birthday to Breonna Taylor, a young black woman who was fatally shot in March by police who broke down her door in Louisville, Kentucky. Taylor’s birthday would have been on Friday.
The protesters left Deering Oaks around 11:15 p.m. and headed back toward the downtown. About a half-hour later, they stopped near Tandem Coffee on Congress Street, where an ambulance had arrived, apparently to take away someone who had collapsed with a medical problem. The protesters cleared from the street and applauded the emergency workers as they pulled up.
“This is what it’s like to protect and serve,” a man said through a megaphone.
The marchers then moved on again, heading east on Congress Street. The protest reached City Hall shortly after midnight, with hundreds of demonstrators filling City Hall Plaza.
— Derek Davis (@derek_ddavis) June 6, 2020
The protest was scheduled to conclude at 1 a.m., eight hours after it began. Organizers chose the eight-hour span to coincide with the roughly 8 minutes a white police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck.
The day’s protest was organized by Black Lives Matter Portland and participation was fueled in part by a visit to Maine on Friday by President Trump, who has referred to some protesters as terrorists and called for the use of the military to quell demonstrations around the country.
The death of Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody on Memorial Day has sparked protests across the country, including six demonstrations since last Friday in Portland. Some of the protests, like Friday’s, have drawn more than 1,000 people marching and chanting through city streets.
Most of the demonstrations in Portland have been peaceful, but marches on Monday and Tuesday ended with violence and police in riot gear subduing some protesters with pepper spray. More than 30 people were arrested, mostly on charges of failure to disperse. Several Old Port businesses were vandalized or burglarized at the end of Monday’s protest, and dozens of buildings were tagged with graffiti.
Protest organizers, as well as city officials, have condemned the violence, which police blamed on a small number of agitators.
While Portland’s demonstrations have drawn larger crowds, similar demonstrations have been held in several Maine cities and towns, including Bangor, Waterville, Augusta, Lewiston, South Portland, Bath, Brunswick and Gorham.
The Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck despite repeated pleas by Floyd that he couldn’t breathe was arrested and now faces a second-degree murder charge. Three other officers who stood by have also been arrested and charged in connection with Floyd’s death.