PORTLAND, Maine — Protest organizers are urging people to go home peacefully, after ending the demonstration around 9 p.m., but many stayed and have made their way to the Portland Police station.
Twenty-three people were arrested Monday night on misdemeanor charges during what has so far been the largest protest against police brutality in Maine.
The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office says out of the arrests, all but two were charged with failure to disperse and released on unsecured bail bonds.
The protest, organized by a Portland man who identifies as a member of the group Black Lives Matter, drew an estimated 1,000 people into the Old Port area of Portland Monday night, just one week after 46-year-old George Floyd died in Minneapolis as a police officer knelt on his neck, despite his cries that he couldn't breathe. The now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has since been charged with manslaughter and murder. The other three officers involved have yet to be charged.
Protesters around the nation have cried out for justice since Floyd's death. Since then, police departments from Augusta to Portland and from Bangor to Brunswick have expressed "disgust" at the killing and even marched with the protesters.
You can watch NEWS CENTER Maine's live Tuesday coverage here:
Protests in Maine remained peaceful and prompted no arrests—until Monday night in Portland when police say "a committed smaller segment of this group" damaged barricades, encircled and attempted to damage police vehicles closing roads, and threw bottles and rocks. Clark said people "swarmed" police vehicles and "protesters threatened them with death."
A group broke into Urban Outfitters on Middle Street just after 9 p.m. Other burglaries were reported at Old Port Wine, Baciencia, and the Cumberland Ave Shop, and windows were broken and graffiti sprayed, damaging a number of other businesses in the Old Port area.
A tractor-trailer truck drove through the group gathered in front of the police station just after 9:30 p.m., Clark said, and when the truck was stopped by police, "the driver and his passenger were ... confronted by protesters" and nearly "attacked."
Fifteen Maine law enforcement agencies assisted Portland police, but Lt. Robert Martin on Tuesday said he did not know how many officers were out Tuesday night.
He said police issued "orders to disperse" for more than an hour due to "riotous" conditions, and then used pepper spray in pepper ball and aerosol canisters on protesters throwing objects at police. They then began arrests, Martin said.
A leader of Portland's immigrant community said Tuesday that the people involved with breaking into Urban Outfitters and other similar acts Monday night were "not at all" affiliated with any organized Black Lives Matter group.
Nyamuon "Moon" Nguany Machar, who works with Disability Rights Maine and acts as a cultural liaison for New Mainers, said that two different factions identify as members of the group Black Lives Matters, and each has held protests in the past week.
Tuesday morning, the Facebook group BLM Portland posted about Monday's protest:
"Last night PPD proved, as though there were ever any doubt, that police brutality and systemic violence are as deeply rooted here, as they are in any city across the country. While aggressing on protesters, shooting tear gas and rubber pellets, they made upwards of 20 arrests. BLM Portland organizers were on the ground and at the jail to ensure the safe release of those arrested. At 5:45 a[.m.], all protesters we released and their bail waived."
Machar said she spent much of early Tuesday at the Cumberland County Jail, making sure those arrested were ok and had a ride home.
She said that as she drove several of those arrested back to their homes, she questioned them about the event and tried to thank them, but that she could tell from their lack of awareness that they were actually protest, and she noted some were intoxicated.
She said she heard people she didn't know talking about looting and then laughing, and she told them, "That's not what we're here for."
At one point, she said she stepped between a tall, white man and an officer to diffuse a confrontation.
"I thought, 'If another Black body comes here, and is not female and is Black and is taller than me, this aggression is going to lead to something that devastates an entire community."
Machar said she is angry that the people who publicized the protest left prior to the escalation later in the evening, and no one remained to take care of younger members of the community—including one 14-year-old girl who was carried home by her brother after getting pepper spray in her veil, Machar said.
In a release, Portland Police Chief Frank Clark wrote that the city and his department respect the rights of protesters.
"We understand and are also disgusted by the recent tragedy," he added.
Machar pointed to Clark's comments as an example of "how the pain of the Black community has always been addressed, even by well-intended white individuals, in the most subtle way to be politically correct and speak to their white constituents. The majority of them have cognitive dissonance. We need to name murder because murder is murder. It is a tragedy what that family is going through. The act was murder."
She said she's disappointed in the lack of leadership and follow-through by those who led Monday's protest. She said there was an organized effort to turn the protest into criminal acts, and that some attended the protest for the excitement.
Martin said Portland police expect protests probably every day this week.
"I can't believe it won't happen," he said.
Watch NEWS CENTER Maine's live coverage of the Portland protests Monday night: