Rally-goers listen to two hours of speeches, chants and testimonials at an anti-racism rally in front of Portland's City Hall on June 3. Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland Police Department said Saturday that they’ve now made contact with organizers of a rally planned for Saturday afternoon, one day after alleging that the group of anti-racism activists did not communicate with police about their plans.

Organizers, however, have denied the lack of contact, saying that they spoke with an officer following a request to do so Wednesday.

The updated statement from police was released Saturday morning.

“We have confirmed that the event will be starting at police headquarters, but will then proceed to City Hall Plaza, where they have agreed to end the protest earlier than planned (before dark) and peacefully disperse,” the statement read.

The statement followed another issued Friday night by police chief Frank Clark issued through the police department’s social media channels, who called it “disconcerting” and “unfortunate” that protest organizers did not return phone calls and other outreach attempts.

Organizers say they did, in fact, return a request from police to discuss the protest.

Josh Wood, an organizer with Black Lives Matter — Maine, said he called the police department at 5:38 p.m. Wednesday evening, roughly an hour after police spokesperson Robert Martin sent a request to do so to the group’s social media page. Wood spoke with Major F. Heath Gorham, who asked logistical questions about whether the group planned to march or block streets during a smaller rally the group organized Wednesday evening, according to Wood.

“I also told him that an organizer would be in touch about Saturday,” Wood said.

Another organizer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had been the target of threats, provided screenshots documenting the correspondence to the Bangor Daily News. They said police made no further attempts to contact the group. Attempts to reach Chief Frank Clark and police spokesperson Robert Martin were not successful Saturday morning.

On Wednesday, shortly following the grand jury decision of the Louisville police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor, the Black Lives Matter — Maine group simultaneously announced that they would hold protests Wednesday evening and Saturday evening via their social media page. One officer was charged with three felony counts of wanton endangerment for firing 10 bullets into the walls of the apartment building, but was not charged for shooting Taylor.

Roughly 50 protesters gathered outside the Portland police station sharing speeches, stories and poems Wednesday evening. Wood, a Black youth activist who attends high school in Maine, said that Saturday’s rally is expected to proceed similarly.

“We’re platforming Black speakers and letting people read poems,” Wood said. “It’s going to be a genuine event to protest police brutality and systemic racism and celebrate the life and culture of Black people across Maine.”

Black Lives Matter — Maine, a Portland-based group, canceled a rally earlier this month after its announcement generated widespread racist pushback threats of armed violence and vigilantism, including a call from an elected official to send “the Maine Militia” to counter them. The group, composed of 7 Maine activists in their teens and twenties, is one of several collectives to have organized protests against racism and police brutality in the state this summer after the high-profile police killings of unarmed Black Americans, including Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.

Those demonstrations have drawn upwards of 2,000 people and have proceeded largely peacefully, with one June 1 protest — organized by a different group — sliding into disorder late at night. Organizers for that rally struggled to keep order after a man attempted to slowly drive a large tractor-trailer truck through a crowd of protesters gathered outside the police station after organizers had called for the rally to disperse. After the incident, protesters hurled water bottles at long range distances and police forcefully pushed protesters up Franklin St., resulting in a standoff that lasted until 2 a.m. and 22 arrests for failure to disperse. Police later reported vandalism and four burglaries.

Charges for those arrested at the June 1 rally were later dropped, though Sahrbeck said he would not make a habit of that for future rallies. The driver, who was charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon, was attempting to make a delivery and was not motivated by opposition to the protests, according to district attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck.

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