Black Lives Matter protestors rally in front of Portland City Hall just before 1 a.m. Saturday, June 6. Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — A racial justice rally planned for Saturday afternoon in Portland was canceled after organizers said they received an outpouring of violent threats and abuse.

It came a day after Portland Police held a press conference and warned would-be counterprotesters to stand down.

Organizers behind the group Black Lives Matter Maine posted a statement on social media on Saturday that they would postpone the rally. No new date has been set.

“Our decision to postpone is to give you all time to think about how you perceive blackness. And to contemplate why you think a group of youth planning to host a rally and read poetry warranted more negative attention and condemnation than the grown men who threatened to shoot and assault us tomorrow,” the statement from organizers read.

Racial justice organizers had planned a rally in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man who was shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last month. The group had planned to form a large blockade on a street outside the police station, an act of civil disobedience, and had been in communication with police, chief Frank Clark said.

Clark added that his department would “be working to protect the group and their First Amendment rights on Saturday.”

News of the rally provoked wide speculation and commentary online, including some who threatened to respond to the protest with violence.

At a press conference Friday, police chief Frank Clark said that the majority of the “troubling social media activity” the department was seeing 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 counterprotesters when he posted without evidence earlier this week that outside agitators would be “coming into Portland” by bus to participate in the demonstration. That and other misinformation posted online prompted some to respond that they would provide armed detail at the event.

State Rep. Beth O’Connor, a Republican from Berwick, added fuel to the fire, posting “Constitutional Carry. Maine Militia can ensure peace.”

Black Lives Matter Maine is one of many loose networks of Black youth activists across Maine to have formed this summer. Racial justice and civil rights activists nationwide coalesced under the 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.

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.