More than 350 people gathered Tuesday night for two rallies in Monument Square in Portland to protest a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer in the fatal shooting of a black teenager.

Political and religious leaders from Portland who attended the rallies urged those upset by the decision to express their dissatisfaction in a peaceful manner and to become involved in the political process.

The “gathering for justice,” one of hundreds of such events held throughout the country Tuesday, remained orderly as people of all ages, including parents with young children, held protest signs and candles, recited prayers, sang hymns and shook the hands of strangers standing in the crowd with them.

The crowd at a 5 p.m. rally listened as speakers addressed the grand jury’s decision not to bring Officer Darren Wilson to trial for fatally shooting unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown during a confrontation in August in Ferguson, Missouri. Rioting erupted in the St. Louis suburb after the decision was announced Monday night.

At one point Tuesday evening, a University of Southern Maine student who is the daughter of a Portland clergyman led the crowd in a rendition of the Christian hymn “Amazing Grace.”

“We are here to remember Michael Brown’s life in the manner in which his family has asked and to express our collective need for a fair and transparent justice system,” said Rachel Talbot Ross, president of the Portland chapter and state director of the NAACP, one of several organizations that sponsored the event.

About 150 people attended the second rally, which was organized on Facebook and started at 9 p.m. After the rally, the protesters marched along Congress Street to Longfellow Square.

Police Lt. Robert Ridge said they then went to the Portland police station, where they marched through a plaza next to the station before returning to Monument Square. Ridge said the protest was peaceful and no arrests were made.

Speaking at the 9 p.m. rally, Shenna Bellows, the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate who lost to Republican Sen. Susan Collins this month and previously led the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, urged Mainers to contact the members of the state’s congressional delegation and ask them to sponsor legislation to end racial profiling.

“What we have is a problem where young men of color are being killed by police at a disproportionate rate, but it goes beyond that because there are a disproportionate rate of arrests as well,” Bellows said.

Similar rallies were held Tuesday in major cities across the United State, including New York City, Boston, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

The Rev. Kenneth I. Lewis, senior pastor at Portland’s Green Memorial AME Zion Church, spoke during the first rally about what many perceive as the injustice of the grand jury’s decision.

“I’m dissatisfied. I’m dissatisfied that our level of engagement does not rise to our level of enragement,” Lewis told the crowd. “If we don’t become dissatisfied with the status quo, I’m not sure we will ever be on the same page.”

Lewis, who is black, called on other minorities to become more active in civic affairs, saying a person who is not registered to vote will never have the opportunity to serve on a jury.

“I believe we need to engage with those in authority because the minority cannot make a difference. It requires a majority to make change in the course of our history,” Lewis said.

His daughter, Alyssa Lewis, did not speak to the controversy in Ferguson. Instead, she took the microphone from her father and sang “Amazing Grace.”

“I needed to come here tonight. I knew that more violence would not be the answer,” she said. “I wanted to use my voice to raise up the spirits of the community.”

Evah Hellewell and Naomi Marthai of Portland used a sign to make their point. It read, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

Hellewell, who is white, said there is no place in our society for racism. “I can understand why people (in Ferguson) are angry,” she said.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said the city must do more to make all people, regardless of the color of their skin, feel that they have a voice in the community.

“I ask all of you: How can we learn from this experience?” he said. “How can we have a bigger heart and soul to make sure that we are doing everything we can to end violence and promote justice?”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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