Portland police arrested 18 protesters late Friday who had blocked Commercial Street for most of the night.

They were among a group of demonstrators – decrying the recent police shootings of black men – who had marched from Lincoln Park to the heart of the Old Port on Friday evening, tying up traffic after they occupied a busy intersection on Commercial Street.

After the arrests for blocking a public way, all of the police officers who had been on the scene for hours pulled out by 10:50 p.m.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said at a news conference early Saturday that officers targeted “ringleaders” for arrest.

“There were people who, it is obviously from Day 1, they wanted to be arrested,” he said.

But immediately after the police left, a group of about 30 protesters chanting and carrying a banner about 20 feet wide returned to Commercial Street and then moved up Market Street. Supporters of theirs accompanied them along the sidewalks.


The group, about 50 or 60 strong, turned down Middle Street and gathered in front of the police station, where they shouted, “No justice, no peace!”

They were watched over by three officers on the steps of the police station. Those officers went back inside the police station at about 11:40 p.m.

Earlier Friday evening, there was no violence as about 25 protesters held hands in a circle at the intersection of Pearl and Commercial streets.

About 100 other protesters stood, and then later sat, on the sidewalk around the intersection.

Police blocked off Commercial Street for a few blocks on either side of the circle of chanting protesters. At one point, an officer walked through the group, but only to turn around a car that was tied up on the other side of the protesters.

Another time, two officers told protesters to take down a large banner that they were holding while standing at the entrance to Custom House Wharf. The protesters complied and a couple of drivers who had been waiting to exit the wharf left without incident.


Other than that, there was no immediate resolution to what turned into an hourslong standoff before the arrests.

The group did not get a permit or meet with police to talk about their protest plans, unlike the organizers of a protest march on Friday of last week that went from Monument Square to Portland City Hall to the Portland police station and then back to Monument Square.

Maj. Don Krier, who was the senior officer in the Old Port on Friday night, said police had tried to contact the protest leaders earlier Friday to discuss their plans, but were rebuffed.


Last week’s protesters appeared to have friendlier relations with the police. The organizers met for three hours to discuss the plans. Then there was a brief recap meeting between Sauschuck and protest leaders before the demonstration started to go over plans again.

That protest was organized largely by a group of teenagers and was held in memory of two black men shot by police in Louisiana and in Minnesota last week whose deaths were captured on video, and the killing of five Dallas police officers in apparent retaliation. The events stirred national outrage and threw new fuel onto an already smoldering national conversation about race and police tactics.


For this Friday’s protest, a group organized by the Portland Racial Justice Congress met in Lincoln Park to form up for the march.

One of the leaders, Mariana Angelo, said blacks were tired of being told that they have to be peaceful to achieve any gains.

“We want peace, but we have to be mad first,” she said.

Another group of protesters met in the park before many of the leaders of the Portland Racial Justice Congress even arrived. The members of that group of about 50 people wouldn’t give their names or say what groups they belonged to or who organized the meeting. About a dozen wore smocks saying they were observers from the American Civil Liberties Union, but they, too, wouldn’t give their names.

They did say, however, that they were there to act as witnesses in case of an altercation with police.

A few bystanders took issue with the group’s chants of “black lives matter.”


One man came out of a bar to express his opinion, until a police officer stepped in between him and a small knot of protesters. The man insisted his name was “All Lives Matter.”

Another man, later in the night, made the same point to the protesters in the middle of the intersection. He then moved on, eating ice cream from a cup.

During the march from Lincoln Park, a police car with lights on moved ahead of the protesters, while two followed behind.

After the march reached Commercial Street, the police cars were used to block off traffic around the protesters.

Krier, who was in charge of the scene, said the protesters were guilty of blocking a public way, but he said police were in no hurry to make arrests. He said a problem would develop if the officers, about six in all, watching the protest were needed elsewhere. At that point, he said, police might make arrests so that some officers could leave to take care of other matters in the city.

Krier said the marchers hadn’t broken a law by marching without a permit, but they were breaking the law by blocking the road. He said he had no deadline to move against the protesters, then noted that if he did have a deadline, he wouldn’t divulge it to the press.


One man watching the protest, Stephen Joffe of Portland, said he sympathized “100 percent” with the political aims of the demonstrators, but said disrupting business in the busy Old Port during the summer would hurt those who worked in or owned downtown restaurants or bars.

“It creates a negative rebound” that could hurt the aims of the protesters, Joffe said.

But for the most part, bar- and restaurant-goers seemed unfazed by the demonstration and simply walked around the protesters on the sidewalk.

The protesters said their aims were to have Sauschuck affirm the value of black lives, promise more transparency and civilian participation in police oversight, and start using body cameras for city officers.

In response to the group’s call, Sauschuck held a news conference Friday afternoon, saying that the group had not first contacted his department or included the department when it distributed its statement.

“I hear a group of people who say they’re angry, they’re frustrated, they feel oppressed,” Sauschuck said. “And because of that they want to say, ‘Black lives matter, too, pay attention when these things happen in our society.’ And from a law enforcement perspective, I say of course they matter, of course they matter to us. We deal with individuals on their worst days, and we care about folks. I don’t care about the color of your skin. I never have.”


Sauschuck also spoke about existing measures for citizens to participate in the police accountability process, including the police citizen review subcommittee, a group that has existed since 2001.

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said the racial justice group had not communicated with the city about the protest, and officials learned about it only after media organizations received notice of the rally and asked the city about it.

“In our country we’ve had a very divisive and volatile time,” Sauschuck said. “Certainly it’s been ongoing, but the last few weeks have been incredibly troubling for everybody.”

Last week’s vigil drew about 500 people. It was followed on Tuesday by a city-sponsored event in which black community leaders and law enforcement came together to discuss the unrest and police relations. Sauschuck spoke at the city event.

Friday’s gathering, however, was not sanctioned by the city.

“I don’t know what that event is going to entail,” Sauschuck said Friday afternoon. “The event planners have not reached out to us.”

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