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Brunswick Black Lives Matter protest prompts march to police station

After several hundred people gathered on the Brunswick mall for a vigil, many marched to the police station to confront officers on Sunday.
Credit: Times Record

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Hundreds of people gathered on the Brunswick Mall Sunday evening to recite the names of people killed over the past century by organized movements such as the Ku Klux Klan and, more recently, people killed by police.

Event organizer Jackie Sartoris said approximately 400 people gathered, far more than she has seen at past events, to protest the unjust deaths, including that of George Floyd, killed by Officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis on May 25.

Chauvin has since been charged with murder and manslaughter, but protestors across the country are seeking charges for the other three officers involved.

Following a vigil, approximately 150 people walked up Pleasant Street to the Brunswick police station and engaged with police officers in a parking lot across Stanwood Street.

Event in Brunswick, ME by Brunswick Area Indivisible on Sunday, May 31 2020 with 369 people interested and 177 people going.

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During the encounter, protesters chanted and asked officers to kneel as a sign of opposition to police brutality, but they declined.

Brunswick Police Cmdr. Mark Waltz said officers declined to kneel for a number of reasons.

"People quickly twist messages," he said. "If we had knelt, it could have looked like we were in solidarity with Black Lives Matter or this group. It could have been taken as, 'Next time we will kneel on your neck," referring to the way Lloyd was killed. "And in front of a large group, it's not a good tactical decision to be on your knees."

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Following a long discussion, Lt. Paul Hansen shook hands with the lead protester, Toby Houlton, and the two embraced, according to several reports.

Waltz said the department had brought in extra officers for the vigil "because, unfortunately, if it was just Brunswick Indivisible, a wonderful group that peacefully protests ... but what we're seeing around the country are extremists on both sides. It could be white supremacists trying to stir things up, it could be anarchists."

In a press release Monday, Brunswick Police Chief Richard Rizzo said, "On behalf of the men and women of the Brunswick Police Department, the message was heard loud and clear -- and we are in complete agreement. The killing of George Floyd disgusts all of us and embarrassed our profession."

Rizzo wrote that he "listened to the thoughtful comments of a young, black man" who "explained that when he was recently stopped by one of our officers for a traffic violation, he had been afraid that he would be harmed by the officer due to his race. I was happy to hear that the officer alleviated the man's concerns that night. However, I don't want him to feel threatened in the first place."

Rizzo offered to meet with small groups to discuss "ways we can make members of our community safer."

But Sartoris said, "I thought it was in some ways kind of a missed opportunity" for the police.

Unfortunately, the kind of "blue lives matter" reaction to Black Lives Matter is sort of rightly seen as defensive," she said. "Everybody knows that blue lives matter. We react with sorrow and horror when a member of law enforcement is taken down in the line of duty," Sartoris said. "But the reality is, it's not Black Lives Matter versus blue lives matter."

"I think I have been where most white Americans are -- sort of well-meaning and completely oblivious to the exeperience of Black Americans," she said. "Since that time I've been on a journey of being knocked upside the head of realities I hadn't wanted to believe. This is our history and we need to own it."

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