Protesters allege Portland police misconduct at Black Lives Matter rally

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PORTLAND — Police actions during a July 15 Portland Racial Justice Congress rally must be reviewed and discussed, councilors were told at their meeting Monday.

“(Police) targeted black and brown people specifically for the color of their skin,” Grant Street resident Matthew Raymond said during the public comment session opening the second of two meetings held in City Hall.

Raymond’s comments followed a 90-minute meeting where the council approved the installation of devices to improve voice and data cell phone reception in the city, shifted the District 3-1 polling place, and approved setting up an $800,000 revolving loan fund to clean environmental hazards.

Raymond was joined by Deena Metzler and Iris SanGiovanni in saying the initial arrests at the rally in support of Black Lives Matter were an example of racial profiling, and more violent than the public was led to believe. Police arrested 18 demonstrators on charges of obstructing a public way.

Raymond there are photos and video showing police “twisting protesters’ arms beyond the point of just arresting them to cause pain, directly punching protesters and slamming them up against walls.”

Metzler said the police reaction stems from inherent racism that can still be subtle before it is imbued in the legal system.

“I’m here to tell you if you are white, you are racist, it is in all of us,” Metzler said “If you are white, it is your responsibility to educate yourselves.”

SanGiovanni said the protest, which began in Lincoln Park and eventually shut down Commercial Street, was a wake-up call.

“The civil disobedience stopped business as usual and shook our community of white, privileged folks,” she said. “The civil disobedience created a safer space from police for our black community to grieve.”

Councilors did not respond to the comments, as is the case during the public comment sessions where people are invited to speak on matters not on the agenda.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck was praised by City Manager Jon Jennings and Mayor Ethan Strimling in the hours after the arrests for the police response to the demonstration.

“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 July 16.

Strimling sympathized with the anger felt by protesters, and called for more dialogue.

“I want to thank Chief Sauschuck and his team for their admirable work,” he said later the same day.

Raymond had another opinion Monday.

“I just want to make the point it is unprofessional, unethical and unjust,” he said.

Polling place change

The agenda item that caused the most debate Monday was shifting the District 3-1 polling place from Woodfords Congregational Church across Woodford Street to the Woodfords Club.

Councilor Ed Suslovic was the sole opponent of the move, required because church staff no longer wants the polling place. The shift affects the Nov. 8 general election, and councilors said a wider discussion is needed on finding a more central district location.

The Woodfords Club is actually in District 4, as the district boundary is in the center of Woodford Street.

By a unanimous vote, councilors approved a master lease with Verizon Communications for the installation of “small cells” to enhance reception on digital devices in areas of high demand. The lease calls for Verizon to pay $2,400 annually to rent installation spaces on light and traffic poles.

The master lease does not cover space on city buildings, which could generate $4,200 annually, and specific leases will be needed for each location rented.

“This agreement sets the framework for future agreements,” city Finance Director Brendan O’Connell said.

In other business, property owners will be eligible to get financing to help remediate “brownfields,” sites contaminated by hazardous materials from prior uses, with $800,000 in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funds.

The revolving loan fund was given a first read last December, Jennings noted. The EPA funding will go to the city Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund.

In a memo to the council, city Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said the money should become available in October.

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

Portland police arrest a demonstrator at the July 15 demonstration on Commercial Street by the Portland Racial Justice Congress. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)

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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.