More than 100 people gathered at Portland City Hall late Saturday afternoon to protest racism, police brutality and state-sanctioned violence.

They exchanged shouts with a few Trump supporters on the other side of Congress Street and later marched to the police station on Middle Street. The counterprotesters followed, hurling personal insults and repeatedly trying to antagonize the demonstrators, who eventually knelt in silence and raised their fists.

The peaceful demonstration ended around 6:45 p.m. back at City Hall, though a small number of protesters remained there as the number of Trump supporters swelled to a couple of dozen people once a group of motorcyclists arrived at dusk. Some of the Trump supporters later crossed the street and took to the steps of City Hall, where the two groups were shouting at each other shortly before 8 p.m.

The protesters were gone from the scene shortly after 9 p.m. Organizers discussed holding another protest on Sunday.

The demonstration took place after Black Lives Matter Maine canceled a previously scheduled protest that was expected to draw a much larger crowd. The original protest was called off amid threats of violence.

Organizer Adam Rice said he felt compelled to show up as a way to fight against the hatred and threats of violence that prompted the cancellation Saturday morning.


“We need to stand up to that,” Rice said into a megaphone. “We need to show we’re not scared and we’re not going to back down.”

Many in attendance were dressed in black. A handful of protest medics wore bright red crosses on their clothes. And one person brought a wooden shield.

The signs on display included calls to defund and demilitarize the police, “abolish ICE and open the border,” and “I stand with Black Lives Matter.”

Rachel Bernstein, 34, of South Portland said in an interview that she is a member of Black Lives Matter Portland, but still attended the protest to draw attention to discrimination in housing.

Her sign said: “I need to be able to tell my children I did something.”

Bernstein said she was not worried about violence.


“We’re not going to be blocking streets and there’s not going to be civil disobedience,” Bernstein said. “This is a nonviolent protest.”

Evan Cuddy, 33, of Portland said it was important to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I’m tired of racism,” he said.

ZyAnthony Moss, a 20-year-old Black man, urged demonstrators to march to the police station, which they eventually did. He said the shooting of unarmed Black men by police, as has occurred elsewhere, can happen in Maine.

“It could be me. It could be her. It could be anyone,” Moss said. “We need to end this (expletive.)”

A handful of counterprotesters demonstrated by the post office across the street from City Hall.


The protesters tried to drown out several supporters of President Trump with chants. The two sides shouted at each other from opposite sides of Congress Street using megaphones.

Jay Robinson, 33, of Massachusetts stands with a Trump flag Saturday near the post office across from City Hall. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Jay Robinson, a 33-year-old Black man from Massachusetts, stood with a Trump flag near the post office across from City Hall.

When protesters chanted, “I can’t breathe,” Robinson shouted into a megaphone, “Take off your mask.”

“I’m not brainwashed by white liberals,” he said. “President Trump supports blacks. … Not all cops are racist.”

Robinson, wearing a red Keep America Great cap, claimed to be in Maine on vacation and stumbled upon the protest.

When asked about the megaphone he was using, he said he bought it online a while ago and keeps it in his car.


Later, after kneeling with raised fists in front of City Hall for 15 minutes, the protesters marched to the police station on Middle Street chanting, “No justice. No peace. No racist police” and “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?”

The counterprotesters followed and police blocked off a portion of Middle Street.

On the steps of the station, Tanisha McKenzie, 19, who lives in the Brunswick area and once attended Portland-area schools, said she’s struggled with racism throughout the state.

“For people who say racism doesn’t happen here – that’s privilege,” she said.

McKenzie said she’s worried about her 14-year-old brother, who looks like a grown man. She said there’s a reason protesters chant “Black lives matter” rather than “blue lives matter.”

“They didn’t have to burn in the color they wear,” she said. “I did.”


Caitrin Manahan, 28, of Portland criticized city officials for not taking the threats against protesters more seriously and failing to show up at the protest.

Instead, she said, “they locked the door and went on their Labor Day weekend.”

Saturday’s protest was originally organized by Black Lives Matter Maine, which was also raising bail money for anyone arrested for engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience, such as blocking a street.

But comments made on social media suggested that armed counterprotesters also planned to attend, stoking fears that violent protests in other parts of the country could happen here.

City officials held a press conference on Friday to urge protesters and counterprotesters to assemble peacefully and “leave your guns and bad intentions at home.”

On Saturday morning, BLM Maine postponed its demonstration about six hours before it was set to begin, because of the threats. The group criticized city officials for conflating their nonviolent protests with the threats being made by counterprotesters.


Shortly after the event was called off, another group of local activists, the Maine People’s Housing Coalition, which organized a two-week-long homeless encampment at City Hall this summer, quickly stepped into the role of organizers and urged protesters to show up.

“We stand in support of Black lives,” organizers said on social media. “We stand against racism, police brutality, and state sanctioned violence in all forms. Black lives matter. There is immense common ground between the unhoused community and the Black community when it comes to advocating for social justice, especially when it comes to over-policing.”

Saturday’s event was organized in response to the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake, a Wisconsin Black man who was shot seven times in the back by a police officer as he was walking back to his vehicle. Kenosha police Officer Rusten Shesky shot the 29-year-old Blake, as his three children watched from the vehicle.

The shooting drew widespread outrage. Professional sports teams refused to play. Protesters took to the streets in Kenosha for demonstrations that turned violent and included looting. In response to the demonstration, armed counterprotesters converged on the city, ostensibly to protect area businesses.

On Aug. 26, police said, one of those counterprotesters, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse of Illinois, shot and killed two people with an AR-15 and injured a third.

Clashes between Black Lives Matter protesters and armed counterprotesters are becoming more common throughout the country, especially in Portland, Oregon. That city has seen sustained protests since the killing in late May of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police office knelt on his neck for several minutes.


Floyd’s killing sparked nationwide protests, including here in Portland. Two of the protests in June resulted in arrests and property damage, with the windows of several downtown businesses being broken. Protesters fired fireworks and threw objects at police officers, who in turn used pepper spray to disperse the crowds.

Portland police said they intercepted armed protesters en route to at least one of the protests. Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck announced last week that he would not pursue charges against the 32 people arrested. Sahrbeck said in a statement that officers were justified in arresting protesters for failing to disperse, but there was no evidence that they committed any additional crimes.

On Friday, Sahrbeck said not prosecuting protesters was not a policy and that his office would seek to press charges against anyone caught breaking the law on Saturday.

As the demonstration wound down Saturday evening, the group of motorcyclists joined the small contingent of Trump supporters on the sidewalk across from City Hall. A small group of protesters stood opposite them, holding signs and exchanging words.

But most of the demonstrators left peacefully, without any arrests, shortly before the scheduled time of 7 p.m. The only people remaining about an hour later were several Trump supporters who had crossed the street and shouted back and forth with the few remaining protesters on the steps of City Hall.

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