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Maine police, sheriff urge people of color to contact them with complaints

But a leader of Maine's immigrant community says, 'What's on the streets today is a cry for the police system to change.'

PORTLAND, Maine — The morning after more than 1,000 people marched across downtown Portland to protest police brutality—most recently, the May 25 death of George Floyd, the 43-year-old Black man who died after former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nine minutes—representatives of Maine's law enforcement community urged people of color to contact police departments if they have complaints about interactions with their officers.

But a leader of Maine's immigrant community said Wednesday that the request calls on people to use a broken system to change that very system, and is destined to fail.

"If the system is going to wait and say, 'Nobody came to me,' then they're going to wait," Mufalo Chitham, executive director of the Maine Immigrants' Rights Coalition, said.

Just after 6 p.m. Tuesday, Portland police vehicles led the protesters from Congress Square Park to the police department, where Portland Police Chief Frank Clark and others knelt with protesters for nine minutes prior to a brief rally. 

The group later marched to the Eastern Promenade and later returned to Congress Square Park, where organizers ended the protest.

After 9 p.m., though, police say a group of 100 to 200 people—"peaceful protesters and agitators that were in the group"—remained outside the police department, and just after 10:15 p.m. fireworks were set off, panicking some of the people.

Officers issued an order to disperse and "were pelted with rocks, bottles, bricks and fireworks," Portland Police Chief Robert Martin said in a release. Police deployed pepper spray at about 10:42 p.m. and soon began making arrests.

Ten people, including nine Maine residents and one 31-year-old man from New York City, were arrested and charged with the misdemeanor crime of failure to disperse.

During a press briefing Wednesday, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said, "I would say I've seen 'a tale of two events' each of the last two nights. The first part, people coming out wanting to be heard, wanting to send a message, wanting us to hear them, and then going home. And then another group, standing out, really creating another level. And I was reflecting last night during one event when we're hearing about peaceful protest ... and then immediately smoke bombs and fireworks being shot at the officers."

RELATED: Police chiefs from Greater Portland speak about recent protests

Watch the full press conference here:

Joyce continued, "We can't yell over each other. People want to be heard, I recommend that they call [their] local law enforcement. Set up a meeting. We are willing to listen ... the last part of the last two nights, nobody's being heard."

Yarmouth Police Chief Dan Gallant of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association said the Maine criminal justice community "stand[s] united with Maine people in mourning the senseless and unjust death of George Floyd. Together, we condemn the actions of those law enforcement officers responsible for Mr. Floyd's death ... We cannot ignore the video or his pleas for help. We must all learn from this and other tragic events so they are never repeated."

Gallant said police departments will review policies and procedures and will "continue to enhance training to include important topics including implicit bias."

Westbrook Police Chief Janine Roberts issued a "call to action" to people of color and members of the minority and immigrant communities themselves.

"To anybody who feels that they are oppressed by their law enforcement agencies, their public servants that wear the uniform of police officers, corrections, our district attorney's office, anything within the criminal justice system, I ask that you partner with us and bring that forward ... I can't try to change something if I don't know about it and if you're not satisfied with a service you've had or contact you've had with one with of my staff or even me ... then bring it forward."

"When you talk about the Black people in Maine, the majority of them come from Africa, they're here because of a broken system, so there's no trust," Chitham, of the Maine Immigrants' Rights Coalition, said. "That they would have the courage to pick up the phone and call the police ... they don't have that. They're here because of somebody in uniform. They're going to do as much as possible to stay away from that."

Chitham said actions like those requested by Joyce and Roberts "will never happen ... until there's a bridge that's created, relationships that are developed ... then [Roberts] is going to hear from somebody."

"What's on the street now is a cry for the police system to change," she said. "Nothing has been created for Black people to go to the system, like she says ... She's asking us to use the same system we [need] to break."

willRELATED: Police chiefs from Greater Portland speak about recent protests

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RELATED: A tale of two protests: organizers and majority urge peace, smaller group instigate police