The simple black box that Ben Severance put on his Instagram feed on Tuesday morning was his way of saying that he stands against police brutality, although civil rights activists say that the gesture is more problematic than helpful because it clutters the internet.  Credit: Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN

Christopher Brown is a 22-year-old college graduate living in Millinocket and Ben Severance is a 32-year-old video production company owner in Portland who both protested the death of George Floyd by blacking out on Tuesday.

By posting simple black squares on Instagram or in their profile pictures on Facebook, the two joined those using social media to participate in #blackouttuesday. Originally organized by the music community, the protest went mainstream as the hashtag became more popular.

Brown and Severance said the low-key symbol appropriately reflected their somewhat uncomprehending but sincere support of a struggle against a form of oppression that they themselves don’t face.

“As a white person I don’t think it is about me but I wanted to show solidarity,” Severance said Tuesday. “I just felt like I didn’t want to be silent, but it is hard to know what to say right now.”

“I am not saying that I understand what they go through,” Brown said. “As a gay man I feel like I may have a small idea of the micro-aggressions and the stares they get, but other than that I’ll never truly understand.”

Most of the postings were blank, though some posted #TheShowMustBePaused, black heart emojis or encouraged people to vote Tuesday since seven states and the District of Columbia are hosting the largest slate of primary elections in almost three months, according to the Associated Press.

The online protests contrast with anti-racism rallies held in Bangor and Portland on Monday. Bangor’s was largely peaceful, while Portland’s devolved as the night went on, with police pushing back protesters on Franklin Street as some shoved and threw bottles at them. Portland police arrested 23 people overnight as burglaries and criminal mischief occurred at several businesses in the downtown areas, according to a spokesperson.

Severance said he was surprised at the number of people posting black squares on social media.

“I felt like I woke up this morning and my feed was just full of it,” he said.

Brown said the protests highlighted an awareness of the racial disparities in the U.S.

“We are all dealing with the same storm but we are not on the same ship,” Brown said.

The online protests haven’t been without problems. CNN reported that posting the blank black image with a bunch of tags clogs up critical channels of information and updates.

Groups or businesses posting the black square on Twitter included Maine Soccer, Maine’s organization of youth soccer leagues; Cancer Action Network Maine; Maine Maritime Academy’s football boosters; and Coastal Enterprises Inc.