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Multiple Arrests Made at Portland Black Lives Matter Rally

Caroline Losneck

PORTLAND, Maine_ 18 people were arrested after blocking traffic for about four hours at a Black Lives Matter rally in Portland Friday night. The march, organized by Portland Racial Justice Congress, drew about 150 people, who marched through the city carrying signs and chanting slogans before stopping to block traffic at Commercial and Pearl Streets in the Old Port.

 Earlier, the organizers had issued a list of demands for Portland Police Chief Mike Sauschuck. One of the demands was that the police chief acknowledge that black lives matter.  "Personally, I don't care what the color of your skin is, I never have." Sauschuck responded Friday afternoon, before the rally kicked off. "We care about our citizens here in the city of Portland, and that's why we do what we do."

But Hamdi Hassan, one of the organizers of the Friday night rally said that as much as she appreciated his saying that, she feels he only said it out of pressure. "We want him to actually mean it and actually make steps and to having a trusted relationship with the black community in Portland. Because that's not how it is right now.

Salma Hassan, another event organizer, also responded to Sauschuck's comments.  "We got the police chief to say that black lives matter.  We ask, do these sentiments suffice? The answer is no. When the Chief promises to bring life to these words and behave in ways that are proactive and preemptive in the safekeeping of black and brown lives in our city, we can talk." Hassan told the assembled crowd. 

Another demand made by the group was that Sauschuck promise more transparency and civilian participation in police oversight.  Sauschuck had responded that a police-citizen review subcommittee is already in place.
"This group of volunteer civilians and citizens that live right here in the city of Portland have an opportunity to review every external and internal affairs complaint.   So if somebody comes in off the street and makes a complaint against a police officer, they're going to see the same package that I'm going to see."

The rally comes on the heels of the controversial fatal shootings of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana by police officers.
In Portland, officers in patrol cars turned out to control traffic in the city Friday night so that the protesters could pass, even though police say the activists had not sought a permit for the demonstration. However, they say the protestors overstepped the law when they blocked a busy public right of way in the city's bustling Old Port. Protestors then marched on the police station where they chanted "No justice, no peace."

The protestors also say they want the Portland Police Department to start using body cams; Sauschuck says he is looking into it.