Police in Portland say they are monitoring threats that armed counter-protesters may try to confront Black Lives Matter demonstrators at a planned rally on Saturday, and asked everyone to leave their guns at home.

Black Lives Matter Maine, a loose coalition of young Black anti-racism and anti-police brutality activists, is planning a rally and protest outside the Portland police station at 5 p.m. Saturday. It has distributed information on social media and is planning an act of nonviolent civil disobedience and is raising bail money in anticipation of possible arrests. In response, detractors have made threats against the group in messages on Facebook, and have suggested in comments online that they will come armed.

Portland Police Chief Frank Clark said demonstrators are planning to block city streets and other thoroughfares, and he said the department is aware of threats of violence or armed confrontation from BLM detractors.

Police want to avoid a repeat of the violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where armed counter-protesters – some from out of state – gathered to protect businesses and property during intense protests that followed the videotaped shooting of a 29-year-old Black man.

Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back on Aug. 23 by Kenosha police, touching off days of intense demonstrations that destroyed vehicles and businesses in the city. Blake survived with serious injuries, and the protest in Portland is being called in his name.

Two days after Blake’s shooting, authorities say 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse drove from his home in Illinois to Kenosha, bringing along his assault-style rifle, and joined other armed men protecting businesses. Rittenhouse shot and killed two people and wounded a third person, police say, and now faces murder charges.


Police in Kenosha at one point thanked the armed citizens for their help before the shooting began, according to ABC News. Some conservatives have rallied around Rittenhouse, including some people commenting on Black Lives Matter Maine’s posts online. Police said there have been threats that others will bring guns to the demonstrations.

Clark said he has been communicating with demonstration organizers, and has asked for surrounding police departments to be on standby; it’s unclear if Portland has already called in reinforcements from other communities preemptively, or if the out-of-town mutual aid will be used only in the event of a confrontation. Clark also pleaded for people on both sides to refrain from violence, burning and looting, and for counter-protesters to leave their weapons at home.

“To the protesters and counter-protesters: We respect your right to peacefully and lawfully protest, but leave your guns and bad intentions at home,” Clark said at a news conference Friday afternoon. “Work with us to create a safe space for your messages to be heard. Do not put my officers in the position of reacting to possible threats, violence or criminal acts, and simply go home and peacefully disperse when the event ends.”

He added later: “The goal here is to lower the temperature and ask for calm.”

Online, posts by Black Lives Matter Maine organizers have drawn more than a thousand comments in recent days. Some are supportive of the group, while other commenters allege that the demonstrators are coming from outside the state and plan to cause trouble, which they believe is proven by the collection of bail money.

“I don’t think coming to Maine is a good idea!” wrote one commenter, Ronnie Chadbourne. “A lot of actual Patriots around here. We won’t stand for it! I have kids and most of the police are my friends. I will defend my family and friends. As far as BLM being peaceful. Haven’t seen it yet! You can bet my friends of all walks of life will be right beside me!”


Other commenters said the bail fund was an indication of some motivation to break the law, or somehow be violent while doing it, despite the explicit statements of demonstration organizers that they intend to be peaceful.

“Saying that you have bail money ready for people who choose to get arrested is just saying violence is EXPECTED and that you’ll get them out of the trouble THEY caused,” wrote one commenter, Roxi Stearns. “Stop it. Stop condoning violence.”
Another commenter said that collecting bail isn’t always an indication of violent intentions.
“The hateful comments are truly astounding,” wrote Tina Casteris. “I will donate to the bail fund because even peaceful protesters may not be treated fairly.”

Hamdia Ahmed, one of the protest organizers, did not return calls requesting an interview. But in a post on Facebook this week, Ahmed said she has received threats over the planned demonstration and is undeterred.

“Trump supporters have been threatening to use a gun on me at the BLM protest Saturday,” Ahmed wrote on Wednesday. “People have been asking me to wear a vest to be safe. I am not afraid of anyone. I will be out here protesting for justice and equality. They want to silence our voice. Do not let them distract you. Keep it moving.”

Clark was joined at the news conference by Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck, Mayor Kate Snyder and City Councilor Jill Duson.

The call for calm comes after Portland police clashed with demonstrators at the end of a June 1 demonstration spurred by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. As night fell and the planned protest concluded, hundreds of people continued to pack the streets in front of the Portland police station. Eventually, dozens of police officers from surrounding cities and towns were called to respond.

Demonstrators threw rocks, fireworks, water bottles and other objects at police. In response, officers sprayed them with pepper spray and fired less-than-lethal rounds at them.

It was the most violent, confrontational demonstration in the city in recent memory. Multiple downtown businesses were damaged or had merchandise stolen, and some demonstrators spray painted protest messages across buildings and other surfaces. Although 22 people were arrested and charged with failure to disperse, Sahrbeck declined to pursue the charges.

“The violence that happened in June should not be happening again,” Sahrbeck said. “I understand my office did not go forward on some arrests for failure to disperse. I want to make sure that people understand that that is not a policy. We will go forward with criminal charges if necessary, and if violence happens this weekend, if arrests are made this weekend, my office will be looking into prosecution of those cases. I want to be clear on that.”

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