Monday, June 1, 2020
An estimated 400-500 people gathered in downtown Bangor on Monday at a rally organized by Racial Equity and Justice, a nonprofit focused on spreading awareness of racial issues and equity and led by Desiree Vargas and David Patrick. Most at the rally were under 35 years of age, and about 10-20% were people of color, according to David Patrick.
Vargas said they organized the rally “not just as a rally for solidarity, or a moment of honoring lives lost – which of course it also was – but to go beyond that. We wanted to use the rally to make change in the Greater Bangor area. We really don’t want to be marching again. We don’t want our children to be going to rallies like this in the future. Social awareness is only a small portion of change, but we wanted to start there.”
Patrick added, “We wanted to encapsulate the energy and manifest it into action. We encourage everyone to reach out to elected officials at the city level – on school boards, in city government – share your thoughts – and seek out conversations with organizations doing justice and equity work.”
When planning the rally, Vargas and Patrick reached out to Nigerian-born Angela Okafor, who has lived in the city for 13 years, owns a law practice, an international food market, and is also Bangor’s first African-born City Councilor, to see if she would agree to speak.
“She is the first woman of color to hold a public office in our community, and we wanted to uplift her voice. So many children of color, women of color, and others see her as a role model, as destroying barriers, that we thought it was important to include her. We asked her to communicate her thoughts as a mother, resident, and city councilor,” said Patrick.
A text of Okafor’s speech follows:
We have a black son who has a friend that is white, who loves our son back – from what I have seen and heard. I have made countless, failed efforts at setting up play dates outside school for them, to this kid’s parent.
Last week, our son asked me again if this parent had gotten back to me, and I said, “No.” He was sad.
Then I told him, “You know we are black, right? And some people may not want to associate with us, just because we are black.” I had to say that to my less-than-10-year-old son. As a last possibility and a reason why we needed to stop trying. In Bangor, Maine. In 2020. Because we have explored every other reason, from our experience and the experiences of others.
Our son melted in tears and asked me, “Mommy, does it mean I can’t be friends with —- anymore?” I told him that is not true because I am sure if it was left to his friend alone, they would play every second. But his friend is under the control of his parents, so they get to decide.
I cannot breathe, not because your knee is on my neck, but because adults have refused to educate and let kids be kids.
It has been asked why we are protesting. After all, George Floyd was not murdered here in Bangor and our Bangor is generally safe.
Yes, our Bangor has been relatively safe, but let me tell you why we are here.
We are here because parents of white kids are still keeping their white children away from their young black friends.
We are here because I have been followed around “to ensure I paid for” goods in Bangor, Maine.
We are here because, while I campaigned in 2019, I was followed around in a neighborhood where I went campaigning. A white lady married to a black man, with biracial kids, who lives in that neighborhood, had to post on the neighborhood social media page that I was not a threat but was only campaigning.
We are here because in the same 2019, I was shushed away while campaigning until people saw my palm card. And I campaigned with fear and extreme caution in mind. In Bangor.
We are here because our kid has been spat on in the school bus, right here in our Bangor.
I can’t breathe because your silence and inaction is killing me.
I love my community and I don’t want violence, but it is not our place to judge people’s anger and how they show it.
Please, I can’t breathe because your white privilege is causing me so much pain.
I can’t breathe. I need air. Please, I need water to quench the thirst caused by the gross injustice against my kind.
I can’t breathe until you understand that it is not okay to tell me at a job interview that I am overambitious and that it is concerning.
I can’t breathe until you understand that, given the same opportunity, I will thrive and our wider community will thrive.
I can’t breathe until we understand that if one of us can’t breathe, all of us can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe until our schools start to teach our kids with appropriate, diverse books to understand that everyone is only a human being, with different but equal history and beauty.
I can’t breathe until our community is safe and free to talk about color and differences. When you say you don’t see color, it offends me because I hear “you don’t see me.”
I can’t breathe until we all understand that our social media posts and campaign promises are not enough until they are backed with actions.
We appreciate your standing with us, but we need actions beyond protesting.
I cannot breathe until we truly are able to hold our elected officials accountable.
Encourage people of color to run for office and help them.
I am a black woman. Yes. But I am an immigrant. And I can’t speak to the experiences and pains of blacks rooted in slavery. That is why we need them to speak to their own experiences. We need Native Americans to represent their interests, and so on.
November is coming and we need to vote.
Vote like George Floyd was your son. Vote like George Floyd was your brother. Vote like George Floyd was your husband. Vote like George Floyd was your best friend. Vote like your life depends on it – because it does.
“Please, I can’t breathe. I need air. I need water. I can’t breathe.”
The mission of Racial Justice and Equity is ‘to spread awareness on racial issues and equity. We hope to help pave the way for other black and brown people to survive and thrive with more equality and opportunities.’ Vargas and Patrick are looking to network with other people of color across Maine, as well as educate the white community. “We want to form a unified coalition for mutual aid, so that people feel unified in working together.” Their website is: racialequityandjustice.org
These photos were taken in Bangor and were contributed by Kevin Garnon Nishimwe
It was already quite late when Abdullahi Ali returned to Portland from a day trip to Lewiston Monday night after attending a peaceful protest in that city. He knew there was a protest planned in Portland, and had heard it was peaceful, but he had no plans to attend until he heard from friends that the mood at the protest had changed from peaceful to tense. Ali works with youth at Gateway Community Services, and he thought he might be able to use his influence to help diffuse trouble. He decided to head over.
On his way over, Ali said he was startled to hear the sirens of many different police cars. In fact, according to the City of Portland press release, multiple agencies responded to their request for aid. These included Maine State Police, Cumberland County Sheriff, South Portland Police, Westbrook Police, Scarborough Police, Gorham Police, Windham Police, Auburn Police, Brunswick Police, Androscoggin County Sheriff, Sagadahoc County Sheriff, Topsham Police, Falmouth Police, Cumberland Police, and Yarmouth Police.
As Ali was listening to the sirens, he started receiving messages from friends warning him to stay away. They said that the situation at the protest, which had been peaceful earlier, was becoming dangerous. By the time he arrived, the crowd had shrunk and several people had already been arrested. He saw a few people throwing water bottles toward the police, though they didn’t actually land near any officers. He said that most of the protestors were in fact trying to shield the police, and get others to calm down, and that the focus for almost everyone present was on keeping the protest peaceful. There was a small group of people causing trouble, Ali said.
“It was just an isolated group causing trouble. Most people were trying to do the best they could to make sure the protest remained peaceful from beginning to end. I didn’t see police talking to protestors, or making an effort to communicate. The response was not proportionate. It was not what we would like to see in Portland. I would like to see the police be more friendly, and find ways to show they hear the anger and frustration of the protestors. I would like to see the City find ways to de-escalate tension, rather than using tear gas,” Ali said. The evening ended with 23 arrests.
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
On Tuesday evening, thousands of people marched from Congress Square to the police station, and from there to Munjoy Hill, where they staged a lie-in, and chanted, ‘I Can’t Breathe,’ before heading back downtown. The demonstration was entirely peaceful and lasted about three hours, from 6:00-9:00 p.m.
https://www.facebook.com/102747834639567/videos/732180944204762/ : Video courtesy of Sinaan Outlets
Late Tuesday evening the mood again grew tense, with the organizers of the protest urging people to go home. Approximately 100 people refused to leave. A wall of police officers in riot gear blocked the street in front of the police station. There were no signs of vandalism, however firecrackers were tossed toward the police. Reports are that the police used pepper spray bullets on the crowd.
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Police Chiefs from Greater Portland joined together at Portland City Hall at 11:00 a.m. for a press conference to speak about recent events, and “their commitment to ensure continued dialogue and collaboration that will help bridge the gaps between the “system” and people of color in our communities.” Several of those who spoke referred to a joint phone call that took place June 2 with some of the organizers of the protests. The Cumberland County Sheriff said, ” It was pretty shocking to hear what the young people on the call think of law enforcement,” and Westbrook Police Chief Janine Roberts said, “I heard youth of color say they wake up fearful that every time they see a police officer they worry, ‘is it me today?’ That was powerful.” The message the officers were clearly trying to articulate to the public is that they are hearing and taking in the message that there is a need for systemic change. They also emphasized that the criminal acts of a few risk obscuring the important message of a need for systemic change that the protestors are trying to communicate.
Video provided by Abdul Ali
On Wednesday afternoon, thousands of protestors again gathered in Portland. The protest was organized by Abdul Ali and Hamdia Ahmed. On Tuesday evening, Abdul Ali said organizers were determined that the demonstration would be peaceful, and that its purpose is ‘to address systematic oppression, why doing so is decades overdue, and why there is still no change.’ Many wore ‘Black Lives Matter’ t-shirts and carried signs with slogans like: ‘White Silence is Violence,’ ‘Am I Next?’ ‘Don’t Kill My Dad!’
The gathering included City Councilors Jill Duson, Pious Ali, Tae Chong, and Spencer Thibodeau, as well as Mayor Kate Snyder of Portland, and Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana.
Speaking on behalf of the City Council, Jill Duson said, “Thank you for showing up, speaking up, and acting up.” The crowd chanted ‘Black lives matter!’
One speaker gave advice to white people who want to be effective allies. “What can you do to help?” she asked. “Educate yourself. Talk about the problem. Be kind to each other.” Other speakers shared the fear they feel every day on their own accounts or on behalf of others. “I don’t want to worry about my brother going out for a jog anymore,” a young woman shared. The rally dispersed at approximately 6:00 p.m. The entire event was peaceful.
Note: Rallies and protests have been held cities and towns all over the state in the week since the murder of George Floyd. Please send photos to [email protected] if you would like us to add your photo of a rally or a protest.
Featured photo was taken by Ryan Smith, courtesy of Desiree Vargas
Photos in this gallery were taken on June 2 by Steven Bridges