SANFORD — They talked, sharing stories about how racism had impacted their lives.  They marched. They lay prone on the ground for eight minutes and 46 seconds, chanting, “I can’t breathe.”

And when it was over, everyone went home.

A Black Lives Matter protest at Gowen Park attracted about 400 people Saturday afternoon, with a little less than half of them marching to Sanford’s Police Department for a brief demonstration.

The protest, sponsored by Project CommUnity, joined a growing number of similar demonstrations in Maine and across the nation, prompted by the Memorial Day incident involving George Floyd, a black man who died when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

While it was considerably smaller than protests that have been held in Portland, the message was the same.

“We need change,” said Lateisha Wallace after an emotional speech detailing her experiences with racism while growing up in nearby Lebanon. “And this is how we start it.”

One by one, protesters took the microphone at the pavilion, detailing their lives as a black person in Maine.

There were tales of cutting remarks from friends, who would later claim they were made in jest. There were tales of racial stereotypes from strangers. There were tales of unprompted encounters with the police and continued frustration with the justice system.

Deante Campbell, who will be a senior at Sanford High in the fall, moved here from Jamaica seven years ago. “We came here for opportunity, education and just a good life,” said Campbell, 17, who has attended the protests in Portland as well. “But when I came here I had a much different experience.”

Shakir Elshabazz moved to Sanford 10 years ago from Concord, New Hampshire. He broke down in tears telling his story. But Elshabazz, 59, looked out at the crowd and saw hope.

“I’m happy because now I feel I can be heard,” he said. “I know that I am not alone.”

The speakers called for change at every level to end systemic racism, starting in the school system – where they seek more counselors for students, more courses on black history and more black teachers in the classrooms – and extending to police departments, where they want to see more black police officers in Sanford.

They later marched a mile-and-a-half to the Sanford Police Department, passing a couple of white males standing on the sidewalk holding guns, as well as other groups dressed in body armor.

People who saw those armed observers described them as intimidating and leering.

Shane Reisinger of Gorham attended the rally with his son. He said they were both frightened as they walked past the armed people on the road with their hands up. When the group chanted “Black lives matter,” he said he heard one man say, “No, they don’t.” Reisinger said he is white, and his son is black.

“At the police station, my 13-year-old son looked at me and said, ‘Dad, can we leave? I’m scared.’ I actually had to tell my 13-year-old son that we were safer walking back with a group of people,” Reisinger, 31, said.

Josh Wood, 15, helped organize the event.

“Despite everything being very peaceful, we still had a right to protest — the only thing I found intimidating or gross was the fact that they tried to impede that,” Wood wrote in a text message. “But they didn’t silence us as we marched and I think that is one of the important points to take out of these protests: black lives have the right to protest our injustices just as much as others. After all, we shouldn’t have to be doing this, but we are to call attention and reform these injustices, and nobody will silence that.”

At the police station the marchers were met by over a dozen police officers dressed in riot gear. It was there that they lay on the ground chanting, “I can’t breathe.”

Rapper Spose, aka Ryan Peters, lives in Sanford and attended the protest. He said he felt the armed citizens and the police did not reflect well on the community.

“Standing in full riot gear at 2 p.m. against your own citizens is escalatory,” he said. “It is a provocation. I think the Sanford Police Department needs to be examined.”

There were a couple of tense moments there. An older white male somehow got between the line of police officers and the protesters and began talking to the protesters. He was quickly led away by a police officer.

Then, a small group of protesters approached a white male who was hanging around the back of the crowd.  But several older protesters stepped in and stopped anything from escalating. That’s when the protest returned to Gowen Park. Sanford police took the white male aside and determined he was not a threat.

Sanford Police Chief Thomas Connolly Jr. was pleased that it ended peacefully and that no one was arrested. Sanford has imposed a curfew for Saturday starting at 10 p.m. and lasting until 5 a.m. Sunday.

“I would like to have said something but I was not invited to,” said Connolly. “And I certainly wasn’t going to insert myself into that. I would have gladly spoken to anyone and prayed with them for peace. And I mean it sincerely.

“I’m just glad this ended quietly. Their point was well-made and their point is legitimate.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.