Breydan McCrary, 23, leads protesters in a march from Maine Street to the police station on Pleasant Street on Wednesday. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Breydan McCrary never intended to lead the protest. 

He showed up to the Brunswick downtown mall with about 100 other protesters to lend his support and voice to the Black Lives Matter movement calling for an end police violence against people of color. But when he got there, it was “a little quiet,” he said, and at some point, despite usually being shy, he was handed a megaphone and decided to give it a little more “oomph” and a little more voice.  

The event was previously organized by the Bowdoin Democrats, but they bowed out of hosting after hearing there may be safety concerns over counter-protesters. People came anyway.

A group stands on the Brunswick Mall on Wednesday evening to protest police violence against people of color, spurred by the recent death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last month. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

The crowd, which grew from around 15 people at 7:30 p.m. to a crowd of about 100 within an hour, chanted “no justice, no peace, no racist police,” “black lives matter,” “I can’t breathe,” “hands up, don’t shoot,” and “black lives matter or America will shatter.” 

This was the second protest in the past week in Brunswick, with the first on Sunday. Monday, people gathered again in Bath to demonstrate in front of the county courthouse and police station. 

Former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, despite Floyd’s cries that he could not breathe. The video of Floyd’s death, coupled with heightened tensions over a series of other police-related deaths in recent months, sparked outrage and protests across the state and country. 

In Brunswick Wednesday, the majority of the group marched to the police station, where they laid down on the ground for nine minutes with their hands behind their backs, chanting “I can’t breathe.” 

“At that moment, I’ve never felt lower,” Felix Abongo, 25, told the crowd, “so I can only imagine how (George Floyd felt) and how his family feels, having to watch that video over and over again.”

“I’m sick of this,” McCrary said. “We shouldn’t still be here in 2020 … . We are all equal, we all bleed red. We all want peace.”

The protest remained peaceful, and police did not interact with the protesters.

Protesters host a “die in” outside the Brunswick Police station, lying on the ground and chanting “I can’t breathe” for nine minutes– the same length of time a former Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck while he died.

According to Cmdr. Mark Waltz, Brunswick Police were prepared to step in if things got dangerous, but that they did not want their presence to unnecessarily “inflame” anyone.  Organizers did not reach out to the police, and they were not asked to be there, he said, so police stood back.

The only moment of tension came when someone across the street yelled “all lives matter,” a phrase commonly used to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement. 

After yelling back and resuming the “black lives matter” chant, protesters decided to ignore him. 

After the protest, McCrary told The Times Record that he hopes more people can understand their cause and know that not all protests are violent.

It’s sad that we’re in 2020 and we’re still dealing with racism, we’re still dealing with black lives in fear of being shot, being beaten, being hurt,” he said. “I feel sad, scared. I feel ashamed for this country, to be honest. I’m a 23-year-old black transgender man in this year and I feel like I have not one but two targets on my back, so I feel like I’m a little extra scared.” 

McCrary said he is thankful to live in Maine, where there is comparatively less violence, but that he still experienced racism as a child growing up in Brunswick and that he still feels afraid.

“Everyone’s tired of it, not just the blacks,” he said. “We’re all tired of it.”

Officers in Brunswick, Bath and Sagadahoc County told The Times Record on Tuesday that they would welcome more conversations surrounding racial inequality, bias and police brutality. 

On Wednesday, the Cumberland County criminal justice community, which includes both Brunswick and Freeport departments among others, released a statement condemning the actions of the officers responsible for the “senseless and unjust” murder of George Floyd and said they too, were outraged.  

A tear slides down protester Felix Abongo’s cheek on Wednesday as he pleads for more love and more peace in the community. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

Dr. Martin Luther King described riots as the language of the unheard,” they wrote. “The circumstances of George Floyd’s murder speak loudly and clearly. We hear that message and we hear those voices. There is no place for racism and police brutality in Cumberland County, the State of Maine, or in our country. Maine law enforcement officers can and must do better.”

Officers promised to “look inward and forward” and review policies and procedures, remain transparent and eliminate police culture that condones social injustice. They also said they will continue to enhance implicit bias training and culturally sensitive services.

“As community leaders, we are all accountable for the actions of our law enforcement officers,” the departments said. “We recognize that change starts with us. We embrace and honor this responsibility.”

Abongo said the protest Wednesday was “moving” and an experience unlike any he has ever been a part of. He said he hopes their message was heard and that soon there can be peace. 

“This world needs more love,” he said. “We need to respect each other, we’ve got to spread love and it starts with us.” He encouraged others to exercise their right to vote.

“Bring your friend, bring your family,” he said. “Let’s change the world. Let’s make this right.”

Breydan McCrary, 23, takes a knee with other protesters on Maine Street Wednesday to protest police brutality and racism. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

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