Organizers of a protest march in South Portland lead the crowd in two minutes of silence for George Floyd, a black man killed in a confrontation with white police officers in Minneapolis, Minn. The group marched to the South Portland Police station Thursday in protest of the killing. Staff Photo: Sean Murphy

SOUTH PORTLAND — It started on Wednesday, with about six South Portland High School students setting up a group on SnapChat, suggesting a solidarity march for black rights mirroring events taking place in Portland and nationwide.

By the time it was over on Thursday night, hundreds of people of all races and ages had responded, along with city officials, joining in a march and protest that was at times emotional, but always respectful, organized and safe.

By 7 p.m. Thursday, both the school’s lawn as well as Mountain View Road was packed. Many wore T-shirts emblazoned with “RIP George Floyd,” referring to the black man killed after a white police police officer knelt on the back of his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That incident kicked off a series of protests, marches and, in some cases riots, across the country.

Geremi Baez, 18, was one of the South Portland event’s organizers. Holding a hand-lettered cardboard sign that read, “My soul has no skin color,” he said he and his friends were inspired by what they were seeing happening over the past few days in neighboring Portland.

“We said, ‘It’s time. It’s time to do something,'” he said.

Baez said he wanted the march to be peaceful, and serve as an example to others who might be considering similar events.

“We want to set a trend, how to do it right,” he said.

Alex Bambile, 18, with megaphone, addresses attendees at South Portland High School before beginning a march that ended at the police station Thursday evening. Sean Murphy / For The Forecaster

Iman Adem, 16, another of the original organizers, said the goal was to march for about a mile to the South Portland Police Station on Anthoine Street, in a public display of unity.

“We just want to make sure at the police station that everybody has a chance to say what they want to say,” she said.

Her father, Michael Rumo, stood by his daughter’s side.

“I’m proud of her for doing this,” he said. “This is an amazing thing.”

Dozens of people marched with various signs to protest systemic violence against African Americans. Amy Canfield / For The Forecaster

Maria Buck, 18, was wearing a “black lives matter” T-shirt. She said she was blown away by how many of her childhood friends showed up to march, and how it all started because of something her classmates did.

“I think that’s the greatest thing about this,” she said.

At just after 7 p.m. the crowd moved out, walking up Highland Avenue to Anthoine Street. Organizers led the way, shouting through a megaphone. The crowd kept pace, chanting familiar slogans such as “No justice, no peace,” and saying George Floyd’s name. Along the way, residents came out of their homes to see the march. Many were recording the event with their smartphones. Others held up supportive signs. One man applauded as the march passed.

A large contingent of South Portland Police officers was present, but did not interfere. Several officers told The Forecaster they were only there to maintain public safety. Many police cruisers blocked roads to allow marchers safe passage, and a single cruiser with flashing lights crept up the road ahead of the marchers in escort. Police Chief Timothy Sheehan told The Forecaster that his department had learned of the march ahead of time, and he reached out to the organizers personally to assist in coordinating the event.

An estimated 400 people head from South Portland High School up the hill to Highland Avenue. The march went from there to Anthoine Street, ending at the South Portland Police Station. Sean Murphy / For The Forecaster

Once the procession arrived at the police station, the marchers hesitated until Sheehan, who had marched with the crowd from the school, waved them into the parking lot. He allowed them to gather in front of the station to speak, provided a podium and stood watching as a number of the marchers addressed the crowd. Other city officials were also present, including City Manager Scott Morelli and School Superintendent Ken Kunin.

Several officers at the station estimated at least 400 people had gathered. Many speakers vented frustration at the racism they have experienced in their lives. Some broke down into tears and had difficulty speaking. Jason Jackson, an ed tech at South Portland High School, said he was amazed at the turnout. He said he understood the anger toward police after what happened to Floyd, but gestured to the local police officers assembled and said, “That’s not how these officers get down. Do we understand that?”

The crowd applauded in response.

Sage Edwards, 29, said she grew up in South Portland, and remembered how white kids made her feel ashamed of her “curly afro” in fourth grade, but she took inspiration Thursday evening at the show of support from black and white people alike.

Organizers lead the crowd in chants of “I can’t breathe,” “Stand together,” and “No justice, no peace” as they march up Highland Avenue Thursday evening. Sean Murphy / For The Forecaster

“It’s beautiful to see all the different colors that are here now,” she said.

Sheehan told demonstrators he was “inspired” by the event, and praised the attendees for having their say in a peaceful manner.

“You’re doing what’s right,” he said. “You’re doing it right, right now.”

After he spoke, he took a knee with the march’s organizers in a visual show of support.

Morelli, who was heard during the march chanting George Floyd’s name with the crowd, said he was impressed with how moving and constructive the event was.

“I was so proud of how this went down,” he said.

Police Chief Timothy Sheehan, center, and Deputy Police Chief Amy Berry wave protesters into the South Portland Police Station’s parking lot. The crowd listened to several speakers discuss racism. Sean Murphy / For The Forecaster

At about 8:30 p.m., the marchers headed back to the high school, still chanting, then left the area. Walking behind the crowd was Rani McLeod, the mother of Traci Francis, another of the event’s original organizers.

“That’s my baby down there,” she said as she heard the crowd chanting. “I can’t believe they did this.”

Sean Murphy 780-9094

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