Organizers of a Black Lives Matter protest planned in Portland on Saturday said the demonstration would be postponed in light of threats of violence by counter-protesters, but another activist group soon announced that it would host the protest instead.

Black Lives Matter Maine, a group of activists against racism and police brutality, had planned an event outside City Hall at 4 p.m. Saturday. But opponents made threats against the group on social media, and suggested in online comments that they would come to the protest armed.

After BLM Maine announced Saturday morning that it would postpone the protest, another group, the Maine People’s Housing Coalition, announced a demonstration at the same time and place. Just before noon, the event had about 30 RSVPs on Facebook.

The housing coalition was behind an encampment outside City Hall this summer that brought 50 to 60 people to the plaza overnight and forced officials to close the building. The demonstration was intended to pressure the city of Portland to decriminalize camping out; defund the police and reallocate that money for medical and mental health services; establish overdose prevention sites; extend eviction freezes and expand participation in the planning process for permanent affordable housing.

City officials held a news conference on Friday to ask for calm and for all attendees of the Saturday protest to leave 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,” Portland Police Chief Frank Clark said 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.”


On Saturday, BLM organizers criticized Clark’s remarks, saying that by including Black Lives Matter protesters in his call for nonviolence he had conflated their planned peaceful protest with the threats from counter-protesters.

“We are not postponing because ‘Maine doesn’t want us here,’ ” an Instagram post from BLM Maine said Saturday morning. “We ARE Maine. We are community members, workers, students, and your neighbors. But we also have to hold the hard truth: that despite reaching out to city officials, despite educating many people online about our intentions, we were ignored, stereotyped, and threatened. The city officials and the police labeled us as ‘provoking violence.’ They said in their press conference that they will ‘protect their community,’ as if we ourselves are outside that definition of community.”

“We aren’t backing down because of threats,” the post said, “but we also have to keep our members safe from physical harm.”

It remains to be seen how many people will come to protest regardless of the decision by organizers. On social media, BLM Maine organizers appeared to respond to disappointment from would-be protesters, telling them “you have every right to protest, but BLM Maine will not be associated with any protest today. Do whatever you feel is comfortable for you.”

Police said they wanted to avoid violence similar to recent events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where armed counter-protesters gathered to protect businesses and property during demonstrations 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 protests that destroyed vehicles and businesses in the city. Blake survived with serious injuries, and the protest in Portland was to be held in his name.


On Aug. 25, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse drove to Kenosha from his home in Illinois, bringing a rifle. He shot three protesters, killing two and wounding a third, and now faces murder charges.

Some conservatives have expressed support for Rittenhouse, including commenters on Black Lives Matter Maine’s online posts who threatened to bring guns.

Anti-racism protests drew thousands of people to Portland’s streets in June, as part of a wave of demonstrations around the country in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The Portland, Maine, protests were largely peaceful, but after the official end of a demonstration on June 1, hundreds of people continued to fill the streets outside the city police station. A confrontation between protesters and police escalated; demonstrators threw rocks, fireworks, water bottles and other objects, and police responded with pepper spray and less-than-lethal rounds.

Some downtown businesses were damaged, and protesters spray-painted messages across buildings. The district attorney, Jonathan Sahrbeck, declined to pursue charges against 22 people arrested for failing to disperse.

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