PORTLAND, MAINE—A Black Lives Matter protest and rally planned for September 5 in Portland, Maine, was reportedly postponed in favor of a later, larger gathering. The decision came after opposing groups sent threats to the protest’s organizers and a press conference regarding the gathering was held by Portland’s chief of police and mayor. 

The organizers, Black Lives Matter Maine (BLMM), are self-defined on their Facebook page as “a loose network of black youth activists across Maine who want to create, organize and build towards black liberation”, working with black activists in Maine, many under the age of 30. They add, “This group is an outgrowth of the anti-racist uprising we saw in June and an attempt to link Black Mainers together towards our shared goal of Black liberation.”

The gathering, labeled as a justice for Jacob Black rally and protest, was planned at City Hall from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on September 5. According to a Facebook post the day before, the venue had moved from Deering Oaks park “to accommodate the large crowd”.

Hours before the event was scheduled to begin, BLMM announced the cancelation on Facebook.

“We want to be clear, we are not postponing because those who threatened us have ‘won.’ But we also have to reckon with the reality of living black in Maine, and how when push came to shove, White Maine and city officials were quick to cast judgement. And in our skin, judgement can be a death sentence,” read the announcement.

The post also offered “a free history lesson” in which BLMM allies will provide “an educational training on what civil disobedience is and isn’t,” which is yet to be scheduled.

BLMM states on their website, “civil disobedience is John Lewis on the bridge in Selma. It is Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders during the bus boycotts. It is kneeling or sitting for the anthem. It is YOU, every time you’ve attended any protest or a rally. Its moving a protest from a public park, to outside the Police station- like we are doing Saturday.”

A Portland City press conference was held before the announcement on the same day at 2:30 p.m.. A tweet from Portland’s official account commented, “Portland PD is aware of claims there will be armed counter protesters. Chief Clark says armed civilians likely to cause unwarranted confusion/ distraction for police, and ultimately increase tensions and put public & officers at risk. Please let them do their job.”

At the conference, Portland Police Chief Frank Clark said, “The Portland Police Department will, as always, ensure the constitutional rights of any individual or group to peacefully and lawfully gather and protest.”

He stated, “Tomorrow’s protest was originally scheduled to take place in Deering Oaks park, a public location that would’ve allowed a safe space for gathering, messaging, and dialogue. Instead, the event has since been moved here to police headquarters and has not been scheduled to end until after it gets dark.”

He noted that restaurants are now open, and that he expects diners and pedestrians to be in the downtown area during the protest. Clark then recounted the concerns of some members of the public: 

“Tomorrow’s protest is seeking a large number of people to participate in civil disobedience. At the same time, they’ve also been soliciting bail money on social media. These are some of the concerns we’ve heard from members of the public. I know that has led to reasonable assumption by some that some members of the group may intend to break the law and/or be arrested.”

“Some social media posts—not from the organizers but from at least one individual who claims that they’ll be here in attendance—express the belief their rioting, burning, and looting are justifiable means of protest. And suffice to say, they are not.”

He then addressed these concerns and warned against vigilantism:

“I have been in contact with organizers of the actual protest and have been assured their intent is for it to be a peaceful event and the civil disobedience will essentially include blocking of city streets. At the same time we’re seeing social media posts indicating the counter protesters are planning to be here in the city as well, potentially armed and expressing a willingness to use force so as to protect the community from violence and damage,” adding that these posts encouraged the use of weapons, intimidations, and threats.

“Vigilantism is something that is not needed and is not welcome here in the city of Portland. If your intentions are indeed to help, please let us do our job of protecting this community and its residents. The presence of armed civilians will only increase tensions, the likelihood of confrontations, and cause unwarranted public alarm,” he said. 

In the question and answer portion of the conference, Clark stated that his intentions are to avoid the type of protest-centered violence that occurred in the city last June. 

A city attorney also spoke, saying that unlike last weekend’s protests, “If arrests are made this weekend, my office will look into persecution of those cases.”

In the post informing the public of the postponement, BLMM wrote, “despite reaching out to city officials, despite educating many people online about our intentions, we were ignored, stereotyped, and threatened. The city officials and the police labeled us as ‘provoking violence.’ They said in their press conference that they will ‘protect their community,’ as if we ourselves are outside of that definition of community.”

“So our decision to postpone is to give you all time to think about how you perceive blackness. And to contemplate why you think a group of youth planning to host a rally and read poetry warranted more negative attention and condemnation than the grown men who threatened to shoot and assault us tomorrow.We want you to think about your black community members, who saw you host a conference where you mentioned tourism and outdoor dining, but offered not a single world about racism and anti black violence. We want you to think about our members, many of whom are under age 25, who were forced to think about wearing a bullet proof vest- because you decided to say in your press conference there was ‘violence on both sides’ when you yourselves know it’s not true.”

“When you say we are planning a violent riot, you perpetuate years of anti-black prejudice with deep roots in anti-black violence. You say that black led groups & black spaces are violent, that we are dangerous and not to be trusted. It’s this thinking that perpetuates police brutality, lynchings, hate crimes, and the ongoing oppression of our people.”

“We are working closely to build a large demonstration of black joy and resistance at a later date. It will be bigger and better than this could ever be. And no, city officials, we won’t take your participation then. Because when it was clear that when we needed you most- you ignored us- and then had a press conference and lied to this city about your “collaboration” with us. Take this time to sit with that, knowing full well you left black youth in your city to fend for themselves while you ‘protected’ ‘your’ ‘city’ ‘from’ ‘us.’”

The post mentioned an “unread email” sent by organizers inviting Portland officials to participate in the event.

An earlier post from BLMM on September 3 said the organization had received hundreds of threats from “white supremacists, Trump supporters, and members of the alt right” within the past three days. “They are planning to harm us, shoot us, and counter demonstrate our protest on Saturday.” As of that time, the protest was still set to proceed:

“While these threats are real, we will not back down or cancel our protest. In fact, this is exactly why we are protesting. This is why we want our lives to MATTER- because they clearly do not matter to some Mainers. Nor do they matter nationally to law enforcement who shoot first and ask questions never.”

Although the event was canceled, some protesters showed up at the meeting spot at the aforementioned time. Counter protesters in attendance included members of the Proud Boys, an all-male, far-right organization that has counter protested at BLM protests since late March. No violence occurred and no arrests were made.