About 100 activists chanting “black lives matter” marched through downtown Portland on Thursday night, briefly taking over the City Council Chambers at Portland City Hall before moving on to rally on the steps of the police station.

“I’ve rubbed my eyes red. How many more Michael Browns? How many more Trayvon Martins?” Erin Hennessey said to the standing-room-only crowd that poured into the chambers after a rally at Monument Square, where people had read the names of black men killed by police. “We need a new definition of justice. … How many more murders until it’s genocide?”

A nationwide #blacklivesmatter movement has grown since the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of his shooter, George Zimmerman, and coalesced around the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August.

Hennessey said she and several other activists formed the Portland Racial Justice Congress last November after meeting at a Ferguson-related rally. The group focuses on lobbying and educating people about racial justice and equality.

The crowd on Thursday gathered in the chambers just minutes after the City Council’s Finance Committee ended a meeting during which it approved a version of the mayor’s minimum wage proposal. One protester briefly confronted the mayor, who was still in the chambers when they entered.

“Now, do you know why we’re here?” Shadiyo Hussain Ali asked Mayor Michael Brennan. When he offered to speak, the 22-year-old University of Southern Maine junior refused to give up the microphone. “This is our time,” she said to cheers and claps.

Drew Joy, chairman of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, told the crowd that the black lives matter movement was tied to the issue of raising the city’s minimum wage.

“When you think about the minimum wage, it’s about black lives. It’s all interconnected,” Joy said. “We’re going to do this together.”

Earlier, Brennan said he knew the group was planning a march, noting there had been two incidents of racism in Portland in recent weeks.

On Sunday, someone spray painted racist graffiti on a wall of the Portland Halaal Market on St. John Street. Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime. Earlier this month, a group of young white men in an automobile yelled a racial slur at a Saco family: Shay Stewart-Bouley, who is black, as are her 23-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. Her husband, Jeff Bouley, is white.

Stewart-Bouley recounted the incident at the rally Thursday, noting that afterward no one stepped forward to see if the family was all right. “No one said anything,” she said.

“(Those Portland incidents) deserve people stepping up and saying they’re opposed to it,” said Brennan, as he watched the crowd gather before it came inside City Hall. “It’s always important for people to have the opportunity to express their frustration with what’s happening in the city and nationally.”

The group left City Hall peacefully after about 15 minutes and marched to the police station, rallying on the steps there for about 10 minutes, chanting “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it, shut it down!”

After the rally, one of the organizers, USM student Hani Ali, said the event was “amazing.”

“I think the dialogue is there. People are now starting to listen,” said Ali, who helped form the Portland Racial Justice Congress.

Portland resident Lizz Sinclair was particularly moved by the young people speaking at the rally.

“It choked me up to have kids stand up and say what they think is right,” said Sinclair, who works at the Maine Humanities Council. “It’s good to see people responding to it here. It’s good we have such an active community.”


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