Dozens of police officers prepare to advance along the road and through a group of protesters on Franklin Street Monday night. 23 were arrested after a series of escalations beginning around 9:30 p.m. Credit: Nick Schroeder

PORTLAND, Maine — City police distinguished between protesters who took part in Monday night’s “peaceful demonstration” against racism and police violence and a “smaller section of the group” who rallied unlawfully after a series of escalations late in the night.

The rally that began with a peaceful protest at the Portland police station devolved as the night went on, with police pushing back protesters on Franklin Street as some shoved and threw bottles at them. Police arrested 23 people overnight as burglaries and criminal mischief occurred at several businesses in the downtown areas, according to a spokesperson.

“Our goal remains providing a safe environment for those wishing to peacefully express their views and First Amendment rights,” Police Chief Frank Clark said in a statement.

The escalations began after a tractor-trailer drove through the group that was gathered outside the police station at 9:30 p.m. Nobody was injured, but some protesters confronted the driver of the tractor trailer, Anthony McAfee of Massachusetts, and his passenger.

Police took McAfee into custody and he was later arrested on a felony charge of reckless conduct. All others who were arrested face a misdemeanor charge of failing to disperse. They were all from the Portland area and were between the ages of 19 and 42.

Following that event, protesters “were encircling and attempting to damage the police vehicles that had been positioned at intersections and “several officers had water bottles, glass bottles and rocks thrown at them,” according to an account by the police department released on Tuesday. Many protesters appeared to arrive at the event around that time.

One organizer, a black woman, yelled at those who threw water bottles in the direction of police, accusing them of escalating the protest beyond the wishes of organizers.

“Your white privilege is showing!” she shouted.

Burglaries were recorded at four locations in connection with the protest, including Urban Outfitters, which was broken into by a large group, according to the report. Officers also recorded graffiti in more than a dozen areas and “several trash cans” set on fire in the Old Port.

More than 150 police officers, including state and county police and departments spanning 13 municipalities, convened at the intersection between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., when the group dispersed.

Police used pepper spray several times, though a Bangor Daily News reporter witnessed an officer fire a projectile that appeared to be a rubber bullet in the direction of a protester that was unaccounted for in the department’s official account.

“We are fortunate that no one was seriously injured and that most of the property damage was minimal,” Clark said.