Portland rally for Black Lives Matter leads to 18 arrests

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PORTLAND — A leader of the July 15 Black Lives Matter protest that led to 18 arrests on Commercial Street declined this week to discuss the demonstration, the group’s demands, or Police Chief Michael Sauschuck’s assertion that she and other protesters wanted to be arrested.

“I don’t have time to talk about that,” Idman Abdul, of the Portland Racial Justice Congress, said by phone Monday.

Her response came two days after Mayor Ethan Strimling and City Manager Jon Jennings praised police and Police Chief Michael Sauschuck for their actions in response to the demonstration that began at 6 p.m. at Lincoln Park and ended more than seven hours later in front of police headquarters on Middle Street.

Police arrested Abdul and 17 others who had formed a circle in the center of Commercial Street at Pearl Street. They had occupied the space for more than three hours, chanting slogans in support of Black Lives Matter.

There was some tussling as police, with Sauschuck on the scene, moved in after 10:30 p.m. Commercial Street was closed from Franklin to Market streets, and protesters had tried to prevent one car from leaving the area.

“Last night, the Portland Police Department was yet again on the front lines as our country’s hurt, pain and frustrations were on display,” Strimling said July 16 in a press release. “And, as they do day in and day out, our law enforcement personnel performed with professionalism and empathy.

The Portland Racial Justice Congress announced the demonstration in support of Black Lives Matter late on the morning of July 15.

“The people of Portland want to know that their public servants in the Police Department affirm the lives of black and brown people and are committed to the fair and equitable application of the law,” group spokesman Abdul said in a press release. She added the protest would “show solidarity with victims of state-sanctioned murders at the hands of police nationwide.”

Following the demonstration in Lincoln Park, protesters marched to Commercial Street.

According to the Cumberland County Jail, Abdul, 22, was among 18 people arrested and charged with a Class E count of obstructing a public way. Also arrested were Alba Briggs, 25; Mariana Angelo, 20; Sable Knapp, 26; Kennedy Johnson, 22; Caitlin Vaughan, 29; Sarah Lazar, 32; Nasreen Sheikyousef, 25; Kennedy Bateaux, 38; Shadiyo Hussain-Ali, 23; Llewellyn Pinkerton, 21; Leah Kravett, 25; Barbara Van Derburgh, 22, and Jenessa Hayden, 23, all of Portland; Karen Lane, 50, of Auburn; Lelia Saad, 24, of South Portland, and a 16-year-old.

All were released July 16. If they are convicted, the Class E charge carries a maximum six-month jail sentence and $1,000 fine.

Sauschuck later said in a press conference that the people taken into custody were “ringleaders” who had wanted to be arrested.

After the arrests, protesters who had lined the sidewalks on Commercial Street marched up Market Street to police headquarters on Middle Street, which police then closed between Market to Franklin streets.

“I honestly did not think I could be more proud until Friday night. The commitment and professionalism shown by every member of the Portland Police Department is a tremendous example of what makes this city great,” Jennings said in a statement on July 16.

The Portland Racial Justice Congress also demanded Sauschuck allow more citizen participation in “law enforcement oversight committees or policy review,” and equip police with body cameras “in order to promote safety and accountability.”

In a press conference held before the demonstration, Sauschuck said he had not been contacted by the Portland Racial Justice Congress, but responded to the demands, including saying the lives of people of color mattered to him and the police.

“It is unfortunate from my standpoint we spend as much time arguing about the language, because to me, it is my context that of course they matter, and why wouldn’t they matter?” Sauschuck said. “From a law enforcement perspective, of course they matter. They certainly matter to us.”

While police cruisers all have cameras and the chief reviews video they record, Sauschuck said he does not expect his officers to be equipped with body cameras in the near future.

“I want to see where case law lands,” he said, because body cameras could also infringe on civil liberties in instances where police respond to a call in a home and the video could become a public record.

Sauschuck said the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee has records of all misconduct complaints and how they have been handled, which are also available for public review.

“We are very transparent; we believe in accountability, and I’ve got nothing to hide,” he said.

Sauschuck has acknowledged his department needs a more diverse force and is committed to matching the demographic of the city’s population. The first African-born police officer was sworn into duty this year. Sauschuck said the rate of minority officers may still be around 5 percent, while census statistics place the city’s minority population at 7 percent.

Strimling was sympathetic to protesters, but sought communication and outreach.

“Innocent lives are being lost – both civilian and sworn personnel. Orlando, Dallas, Minnesota, Louisiana – there are more. Your anger is, in many cases, justifiable. I’m angry, too,” he said. “But we must remember that it is when we stop shouting that we hear each other best.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Last updated July 19, 2016, at 10:45 a.m.

Activists protesting in support of Black Lives Matter block the intersection of Pearl and Commercial streets in Portland’s Old Port on Friday evening, July 15. Eighteen protesters were eventually arrested. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.
  • Mainer1

    All lives matter

    • Elizabeth Doshi

      People of color are not represented in the white culture that predominates in our country. Our country is changing and we need to be awake to that. Saying all lives matter is like saying, “All bones matter” to a person with a broken leg. If you don’t understand the idea of institutional racism and the systemic problems with police brutality please don’t comment on a post of this topic.

      • Glenn Hamilton

        Hey, educate yourself Ms Doshi. Black lives matter has been hijacked by the Black Panther party power structure and is an extremely racist organization.They hate whites and will hurt or kill you being a white human.You need to worry about protecting your white family. If you read what the Panthers are all about you will not make a statement like the above.Protect your family and your neighbors.

        • jeffshaught

          What a bunch of paranoid bullshit.

        • Oh what deep bullshit. All it takes is 5 minutes with Google to locate the website of the original Black Lives Matter organizers, and not much more to locate the local organizers and supporting groups (like Showing up for Racial Justice, an organization aimed at educating white people about racial inequality, and engaging us in the work for justice).

          The deep dark mystery about the Black Lives Matter movement is why so many white people insist on misunderstanding it. It’s almost as if we don’t want to admit there is still racial injustice.

      • Chew H Bird

        Making skin color the focal point of a cause is racist regardless of anything else.

        • Kevin McCarthy

          Uh… no. By that logic, the Emancipation Proclamation, the 14th Amendment, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, etc. are racist. Pretending that skin color isn’t “a cause” is, at best naive, and, at worst, odious.

          • Chew H Bird

            We are all part of the human race. What if the KKK had decided to stage such a protest? Do you really think equality and fairness would prevail?

          • Kevin McCarthy

            Well aside from the ridiculous equivalency and Black Lives Matter, your comment proves my point. Yes, it would be great if all lives mattered to all people. But that’s not true. BLM is trying to point that out. That BLM makes some white people uncomfortable is part of their message.

          • Jimmy_John67

            The only people that BLM makes uncomfortable are racists like yourself who only see skin color and nothing else.

          • Chew H Bird

            I grew up in Maine. We have poor people, uneducated people, and I grew up in a blue collar world. Skin color never mattered to me because we had no diversity.

            Calling people racist on a message board is simply uninformed about the reality of our language and (in this case) of growing up in Maine,

            I have no problem with people protesting about whatever they want. What I have a problem with is any group protesting in a manner that inhibits public passage on public roads, and willingly creates a public nuisance resulting in taxpayer dollars being spent on frivolous arrests. Wow… BTW: When I forst got online (before the www), us internet geeks were basically colorblind as pictures took too much bandwith to use in our antiquated social media platforms called bulliten boards.

          • Jimmy_John67

            I’m glad skin color doesn’t matter to you. It doesn’t matter to me either. My comment was in response to and directed towards Kevin McCarthy and people like him who only see cause and effect in terms of race and nothing else.

          • Kevin McCarthy

            Suggesting that BLM has some legitimacy makes one a racist? The suggestion reveals more about your own bias. The very statement that skin color “doesn’t matter” to you reveals that it does, in fact, matter to you. One of the best lines written about race relations appeared in a column right here in The Forecaster a year ago. It couldn’t be more apt: “Maybe it’s worth noting that the people insisting that race is circumstantial do not have to manage the circumstances of their race.”

          • Jimmy_John67

            Suggesting that skin color doesn’t matter to me makes skin color matter to me? The suggestion reveals more about your own bias. The fact that you seem to think you aren’t a racist indicates that, in fact, you are one.

          • Kevin McCarthy

            Oh, good! Incoherence and half-assed attempts at sarcasm. Bravo! Though you should really try, at least, to be a bit more original in your critique.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Oh, good! More gibberish and a complete failure at sarcasm! Jolly good show! Can’t wait to see your next incoherent word jumble where you think you are being insightful and witty.

          • Chew H Bird

            I used an absurd example on purpose because racial tension should not exist at all in a perfect world. Many people use words describing a physical differences in both derogatory and complimentary manners. I recognize everyone’s right to express themselves, but to use skin color as a cornerstone diminishes the real issues of violence, discrimination, poverty, lack of opportunity, decreased educational experiences, and other factors that harm everyone.

      • Henry B Swap

        Decent attempt but no, in fact calcified tissue and human lives are different things. The simile of the broken bone is not “like” it since one has a moral component and one does not. Besides that, your lengthy response to a three word comment seems to presume an awful lot about the intent, even character of the individual. Sort of like the lack of empathy and benefit-of-the-doubt you are purporting to defend on behalf of minority groups. Asking someone not to post whom you allege disagrees with you is tacky. All comments matter, no?

        • Lisa Savage

          This sounds like paid commentary.

    • EABeem

      And that is exactly what Black Lives Matters means — Black Lives Matter, Too. It doesn’t mean ONLY Black Lives Matter anymore than saying Support Our Troops means Don’t Support Anyone Else. People of color are being victimized by those in power. No to recognize this is willful ignorance.

      • Chew H Bird

        We will start growing up as humans when we start focusing on the real issues of violence, discrimination, educational disparity, lack of job opportunities, poverty, health care, and go beyond the media fueled focus on skin color.

  • Chew H Bird

    I think the people who blocked off the street should be invoiced by the police department for the inconvenience. It is fine to express an opinion, promote a cause, make a point, and attract attention. However, when (if the story is correct), the “ringleaders” and people who “want to be arrested” create a level of disturbance resulting in inconvenience for the general public, blocking off of roads (what if there had been an actual emergency?), and do so to the extent that reasonably significant taxpayer resources are consumed, then those responsible should pay (in dollars) for the impact on our police department.

  • truther

    You know what? God bless ’em.

    Sure there’s something Monty Python-esque about a group of civilly disobedient white women holding a Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, Maine.

    But they’re out there engaging, being boisterous citizens, and they got the PPD to address an important issue and nobody got hurt. Everybody wins. I want to live in the kind of place where people can peaceably assemble and petition their government to redress their grievances — and where the government responds. More of the world should work like this.

  • Real cool guy

    Our current president; B. H Obama is encouraging racial decisiveness in this country as evidenced by his latest hate speach lecture delivered at the funeral of executed police officers in Dallas, Tx.

    Who on earth wouldn’t walk out on that funeral grand stand… unless they were receiving federal funds to sit still and shut up!?

    The dumb white local females holding hands is classic though. Good job ladies. Now go back to your white neighborhood and pat yourselves on the back.