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Portland City Councilors, Mayor Stand - And Kneel - With Protesters At Peaceful Demonstration

Willis Ryder Arnold
Maine Public
About 1,000 demonstrators converge at Portland City Hall Wednesday for another protest - this time peaceful - against systemic racism.

Protests in Portland against police brutality continued Wednesday. But this time, the event was peaceful and city councilors and the mayor stood — then kneeled — with the protesters."What are you proud to be? Black!” Wednesday afternoon a school-age child voiced her pride before an audience of hundreds protesting systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

Earlier, organizers made it clear: Wednesday’s protest on the steps of Portland City Hall would be peaceful, it would elevate the voices of black youth, and the mic was open to anyone willing to speak.

Before the event began, co-organizer Abdul Ali said he hoped the gathering would inspire authorities to listen to the experiences of the young and black in the Pine Tree State.

Credit Willis Ryder Arnold / Maine Public
Maine Public
A scene from Wednesday's protest in Portland.

“There’s a trauma that comes up when you’re black, Period," Ali said. "There’s a trauma that you grow up with, a world that you have to fight that you didn’t ask for. All in all we’re in 2020 and this conversation should not be happening.”

Chantelle King, one of the first speakers, said she’s sick of worrying what can happen when her family leaves the house. “I don’t want to worry about my brother jogging down the street. I don’t want to worry about my sister picking up groceries – I don’t want to worry anymore.”

King said people can help achieve that goal in three ways: first by educating themselves, second by talking about the problem, "and three, just please be kind to each other," she said. "At the end of the day we are all human beings, despite gender, sexuality, creed, nationality, race, color - it doesn't matter.

As other young people took the mic to share their experiences of being black in a predominantly white state, Portland Mayor Kate Snyder and several members of the Portland City Council, including Tae Chong, Spencer Thibodeau and Pious Ali stood behind them.

Credit Willis Ryder Arnold / Maine Public
Maine Public
A scene from Wednesday's protest in Portland.

Protests across the nation were initially sparked by the death of George Floyd, who died after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, held Floyd down with his knee for several minutes. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder. Three other officer at the scene are also facing charges.

In Portland Wednesday, city leaders called for accountability - and took some accountability themselves. Council member Jill Duson asked those gathered to observe a moment of silence and to take a knee in memory of George Floyd and other people of color who have lost their lives to police.

State Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross called for state government to address Maine's higher rates of COVID-19 infections among people of color. “Well over 1 in 5 people who have COVID in Maine is black, even though only 1 in 60 Mainers is black.”

Portland School Superintendent Xavier Botana said it was time to acknowledge that schools are sites of oppression. “I’m profoundly ashamed at the little progress we’ve made to decolonize our curriculum and privilege the voices of those who are marginalized and underrepresented,” he said.

And the Westbrook police chief apologized for saying earlier in the day that "every life matters,” as it could be understood to oppose the statement “black lives matter.”

“I want to apologize to all our black and brown community members. Not just here, locally, but nationally,” said Chief Janine Roberts.

And although the deep underpinnings of systemic racism were acknowledged, there remained a call for even greater accountability.

One of the last people to speak at length took the mic in a bright pink and orange wig, pointing to the flags above city hall and challenging the city to take a stronger anti-racist stance.

"Where’s the black lives matter flag here?" said drag performer Chartreuse Money. And as the first drops of a light rain began to fall, Money left the crowd with a song.

Soon after, organizers disbanded the official protest. Nonetheless, about 50 people later marched to the Portland Police Station, where they asked officers to take a knee before eventually dispersing.