BRIDGTON — By 8:05 a.m., about 50 people had gathered at a grassy patch in the middle of the rotary between Main and High Streets on Saturday to stage a peaceful demonstration in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and to protest police brutality.

Amy Figoli, who owns Threads of Yoga on Main St., said she asked people to come together on Saturday morning because “I just felt I had to do something.

“I was tired of grieving and crying and not understanding,” Figoli said.

Over the course of an hour, demonstrators held signs as cars passed and took two eight-minute and 46-second moments of silence, the amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck May 25. Floyd’s death has sparked nationwide protests.

In Bridgton on Saturday, Police Chief Richard Stillman and Sgt. Phillip Jones joined demonstrators in taking a knee.

Bridgton Police Chief Stillman and Sgt. Jones joined in the moment of silence. Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

Stillman has been the chief for five years, overseeing seven other officers. He said he’s been “very disturbed” by the death of George Floyd and the police reaction to the protests that followed and that even though police departments across the country, including his own, receive implicit bias training, there is still much to be done.

“There’s a lot of obstacles in the way and part of that is just the racism that is the undercurrent of our country,” Stillman said. “You got to remember that we draw our police officers from society … so we’re pulling that into our own ranks.”

Figoli said that she heard some talk of counter-protests, but besides a few idling stares from passing cars, none appeared at the demonstration. There was one man at a street corner a few blocks away holding a sign that read, “I stand for blue lives.”

Maureen Harpell attended Saturday morning’s demonstration, as well as the demonstration Thursday evening in Naples, with her husband and two sons, twins Peter and Paul Vigna, 19. Harpell and her husband adopted the Vigna twins from Sierra Leone in 2005.

As a white mother to two black boys, “I’m here to stand up for my children,” Harpell said, “but also for all the children of color who at not looked at for themselves, but just looked at for their skin color.”

Harpell said she was really affected by George Floyd calling out for his mother in his last moments.

“For the most part, this community has just embraced (the twins) and helped us raise them,” Harpell said. “But I’m fearful for them. If they stay in Bridgton, I think they’re fine. But what about when they leave Bridgton? And they should be able to.”

Peter and Paul said that they both experienced racism growing up in Bridgton, but sometimes felt ashamed to tell their parents about incidents, such as when classmates would call them racial slurs, Peter said.

But now, they feel a lot more comfortable speaking out.

“I feel very, very comfortable letting myself go, letting people know what I feel,” Paul said.

“It makes a really big change. It really helps the future generation to understand that we’re not going to have that anymore,” Peter said, of coming out to protest.

Peter was joined by his girlfriend, Libby Hamilton, who said that it’s important for younger generations to understand that it’s not good enough to just not be racist, but to be “anti-racist, anti-white supremacy, (to) really speak up and use your privilege for good.”

Hamilton said she’s from a small town in New Hampshire where “there’s a lot of people with really strong opinions,” but Hamilton, who is white, said that this is the time to “have those uncomfortable conversations, put yourself in uncomfortable situations and speak out for good and make (a) change.”

Rev. Emily Goodnow of the First Congregational United Church of Christ said she believes that racism and police brutality are not just issues in big cities, but a “collective issue,” that also reaches rural Maine.

As a follower of a “brown-skinned, Asiatic Jew who was executed at the hands of the state,” Goodnow said, “(it) means that every time that a brown or black person is killed, especially at the hands of the state, it’s another crucifixion.”

But, she said, “I am a believer in resurrection and what we’re witnessing here today is the work of rising.”

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