Organizer Jennifer Manzo, center, and demonstrators participate in a “kneel-in” at the June 4 protest in Naples. Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

NAPLES — Organizers of a Black Lives Matter demonstration on the Causeway last week are upset at what they say was the town manager’s alarmist characterization of it in a public notice he sent in advance.

The demonstration, and others in the past week in Bridgton and Gray, was held to peacefully demand justice for George Floyd, the black man who was killed in police custody in Minnesota May 25 and whose death has sparked protests worldwide.

Jennifer Manzo, who organized the June 4 Naples demonstration, and participant Tiffanie Oliveira told selectmen Monday that Town Manager John Hawley misconstrued the intent of the event in a public notice he sent to business owners along the Causeway and posted on the town’s Facebook page.

“This message is to warn the residents and business owners around the causeway of potential for an escalated event and to prepare accordingly as they feel necessary,” Hawley wrote.

Hawley used in his notice what Manzo said was a cropped screenshot of the Facebook post she made announcing the protest. Hawley said he did not know that the photo of the announcement, which he received in an email, had been cropped. He would not say who sent him the email.

“In the notice was a chopped and screwed version of the post that I made,” Manzo said at the meeting. “This version was designed to twist my words and make our group appear to be violent or negatively motivated.”

On Tuesday, Manzo told the Lakes Region Weekly that Hawley’s notice did not include crucial information about the peaceful intent of the protest, which drew about 60 people.

“My issue was that it was used on that notice and (Hawley’s) words in the notice were absolutely threatening to the businesses around (the Causeway),” she said.

“The notice was likely the main basis for the fear that caused several businesses to shut down due to our demonstration,” Manzo told selectmen Monday.

The Umbrella Store Factory Supermarket closed at 5 p.m. that evening, confirmed store manager Mike Fleck, “just to make sure everything went peacefully.”

Gary’s Olde Towne Tavern posted on Facebook that they would close at 7:30 p.m. that evening due to the “peaceful demonstration of unity.”

The notice was circulated in the interest of public safety, Hawley said, but both Manzo and Oliveira said they received threats after it was circulated on social media, including threats to “plow down” the protesters.

“If right out of the chute your event draws threatening commentary it is our job to react as strongly as possible to protect the citizens of Naples,” Selectboard member Jim Turpin said to Manzon on Monday. “Now, how much thought did you give to the potential that your event might draw outside influences that weren’t aligned with your own?”

Manzo replied that in addition to coordinating with Capt. Don Foss of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Dept., which he confirmed, she was also in “constant contact” with Selectman Caleb Humphries about the demonstration.

Manzo and Oliveira also told the Selectboard they were offended that his note Hawley called their event a “peaceful protest,” with quotation marks around the phrase.

“Why did you feel it was necessary to put peaceful in quotes? What about the people who organized this or the event itself gave you the idea that it would be less than stated? … We, community members and small business owners in this area, do not appreciate your doubt of our honor and integrity,” Oliveira said.

A smaller group gathered in Gray over the weekend. Courtesy of Karla Rae Morrill.

In an email sent to Oliveira after Monday’s meeting, Hawley wrote, “We felt people needed to be aware that there was already some hostility regarding the protest, as evident with the manipulated posting. I am sorry if you are interpreting the notice to be directed at the protest itself, that was not the intent.”

When reached for comment on Wednesday morning, Hawley said the town was working with the information they were provided.

“Concern was raised on behalf of the town because of the manipulation to the original social media posting that we never actually saw. We only saw the hostile version of the post … The Sheriff’s department was not concerned about the protest itself … but the concern was about the (counter-protesters),” Hawley said.

Sheriff’s deputies were present at the Naples protest, but were not called upon to take any action as the event remained peaceful.

“I think it went incredible. I think that we couldn’t have done better,” Manzo said.

Over the weekend, there were also peaceful protests in Bridgton and Gray.

In Bridgton, about 50 people gathered early June 6 at the rotary between Main and High streets. Bridgton Police Chief Richard Stillman and Sgt. Phillip Jones were also present and participated in the “kneel-ins” along with demonstrators.

Maureen Harpell attended the demonstration with her husband and their twins Peter and Paul Vigna, 19. Harpell and her husband, who are white, adopted the Vigna twins from Sierra Leone in 2005.

“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.”

The twins said they experienced racism growing up in Bridgton and often felt ashamed to tell their parents about incidents, like classmates calling them racial slurs. But now, Paul said, “I feel very, very comfortable letting myself go, letting people know what I feel.”

Peter said it was important for him to come out to the demonstration, as well as the June 4 demonstration in Naples.

“It makes a really big change. It really helps the future generation to understand that we’re not going to have that anymore.”

On Sunday, a smaller group from Gray and New Gloucester gathered at Shaker Road and Main Street in Gray, holding “Black Lives Matter” signs as cars passed by.

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