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Portland city councilor faces threats after denouncing 'white supremacist' flag

The flag read "It's OK to be white" and was displayed on the first day of Black History Month.

PORTLAND, Maine — Leaders and citizens in Maine's largest city are standing behind City Councilor Victoria Pelletier who said she's become the target of threats after speaking out against white supremacy.

It comes after Pelletier took to social media to denounce someone displaying an "It's OK to be white" flag in Congress Square Park last week. 

At Monday night's city council meeting, she gave emotional remarks detailing the experience.

"I spent the entire weekend receiving threats against my life, as a black woman, for simply speaking out against the harmful effects of white supremacy," Pelletier said.

Credit: Twitter
The photo originally tweeted out by Aimsel Ponti, a music writer for the Portland Press Herald, has since been deleted.

The banner, clearly mimicking a "Black Lives Matter" flag, quickly sparked criticism on social media, claiming it was "racist."

"The absolute worst part, however, were comments about me and things things that should happen to me because I spoke out against white supremacy," Pelletier said. "That I should be hurt. That I should be beaten. That I should be shot. That I should be killed."

After Pelletier spoke, a number of people spoke up, voicing their support for her, as well as calling on the city to do more. 

"That horrible flag and those disgusting comments are all of us. And to think that it isn't is why we stay in the comfort that we sit in," Naomi Mayer said. 

Every councilor spoke in support of Pelletier and denounced the threats.

"We always want to respect and do respect everyone's right to their opinion, but we're also very clear that this is no place for hate speech and no place for threats to people's safety," Interim City Manager Danielle West said. 

The city released a statement Tuesday including statements from city councilors.

Councilor Regina Phillips, who along with councilor Pelletier criticized the city and Portland police for not consulting Black leaders for their recent statement on the police killing of Tyre Nichols, had a statement included that said she was hurt over the harassment faced by councilor Pelletier.

 "As a society, we want to believe we’ve progressed and moved past the hurtful rhetoric and oppressive actions of white supremacy. In the end, we haven’t developed any type of methodology that will ensure black people live safely in this city, state, nation, or world. We experience and endure hatred and discrimination daily in almost every way. For Black people, it seems we'll never nor will we ever be fully immune to it. As we suffer, we’re told to be patient and polite while we carefully, at white’s people request, strategize ways to combat racism and oppression. How long are we supposed to wait?" the statement said.

Portland community members are also taking action after the poster was held up at Congress Square Park.

Harlan Baker, a lecturer at University of Southern Maine, said he's hosted anti-racism rallies since 2016 at Monument Square Park. He said he has a protest planned for Friday, February 10, and will have it at Congress Square Park.

"It's important to reclaim this space as an anti-racist space," Baker said. "You would think at this point we would have put all of that behind us."

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