PORTLAND, Maine — Those planning to oppose a Black Lives Matter protest scheduled for Saturday evening should stand down, the city’s police chief said.
Chief Frank Clark said that police have been corresponding with organizers of the planned demonstration for racial justice outside Portland Police Department headquarters. Clark said that organizers told him that ralliers would demonstrate in the streets peacefully.
“Leave your guns and bad intentions at home,” Clark said.
The protest has gained traction online where a few hundred supporters are expected to attend. Others have signaled an intention to counterprotest the event with weapons, among other “troubling social media activity,” said a police department spokesperson.
Clark said Friday that “vigilantism is not welcome” in Portland.
“My simple message is that armed civilians [are] only likely to cause unwarranted confusion and distraction for the police, and will ultimately increase tensions and put the public and my officers at risk,” Clark said. “Please just let us do our job.”
A small group of Portland-based activists operating under the banner of Black Lives Matter Maine organized Saturday’s protest in response to a recent incident in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where police shot 29-year-old Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, seven times in the back as he was re-entering his vehicle. Blake is paralyzed from the waist down and expected to survive.
A protest turned violent in Kenosha last month when a 17-year-old boy shot three demonstrators there with an AR-15, killing two. The boy, Kyle Rittenhouse of nearby Antioch, has been charged with first-degree murder.
Black Lives Matter Maine is one of many loose networks of Black youth activists across Maine to have formed this summer. Like others, its organizers have worked on local racial justice initiatives for years, and recently coalesced under a national Black Lives Matter banner following a civil rights uprising sparked by the deaths of unarmed Black Americans, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, at the hands of police.
Many in the group are high schoolers and youth under 30.
“We are all Black Mainers,” a statement from the group said.
The group has no direct affiliation with Black Lives Matter Portland, which led an eight-hour rally in June at which more than 2,000 people attended, coursing city streets and delivering speeches in Deering Oaks Park. That group has advocated for local policy changes such as reallocating police and other funding to social services and reopening the charter for the purposes of eliminating the appointed city manager position.
Clark said the majority of worrisome social media activity police saw online came from counterprotesters.
Blaine Richardson, a Republican and three-time candidate for state office who most recently lost a state congressional race in 2016, incited protesters when he posted without evidence earlier this week that outside agitators would be “coming into Portland” by bus for the demonstration. It prompted some to post that they would provide armed detail at the event.
State Rep. Beth O’Connor, a Republican from Berwick, added to the fire.
“Constitutional Carry. Maine Militia can ensure peace,” the elected official posted.
“Leave your weapons at home,” Clark said Friday.
Citizens in Portland rallied nearly a dozen times this summer in concert with a national uprising in support of Black lives. A June 1 rally organized by a different group went deep into the night and resulted in 22 demonstrators arrested for failure to disperse. The group was released from police custody a few hours later. Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck said last week that he would not prosecute the arrests, which is “not a policy.”