At Lewiston-Auburn Black Lives Matter protest, demonstrators, police engage in standoff over taking a knee

At one of several Black Lives Matter protests this week, Mainers shared personal experiences with racism and prejudice alongside visions of hope and change.
A group of people attend a black lives matter rally
Protesters march down Court Street in Auburn Thursday evening during a Black Lives Matter protest. Photo by Katie Brown.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at Simard-Payne Park on Thursday for the second Black Lives Matter protest in Lewiston this week. In sync with demonstrations across the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, the Lewiston protest sought promises of systemic change to curb police brutality and the institutional racism black and brown people face in America. 

Shortly after organizers addressed the crowd at 5 p.m., chants of “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” rippled out from a field full of protesters dressed in all-black, holding homemade signs and wearing masks to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus amid the ongoing pandemic. 

Hundreds of protesters gathered at Simard-Payne Park in Lewiston dressed in all-black clothes and carrying handmade signs supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement while wearing masks to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus amid the ongoing pandemic. Photo by Katie Brown.

Muse Farah — an Auburn resident and activist who helped open up the demonstration — spoke about black lives lost to police brutality.  

“This is for George. This is for Breonna. This is for Ahmaud. This is for Trayvon. Philando and Eric. This is for Emmett Till — a boy lynched and killed by white supremacists. This is for all the black voices drowned in the sea of white privilege,” said Farah. 

“This is for the countless other lives taken from us — names that you aren’t even familiar with. Names not addressed or brought up. George was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We have had it. We want justice. We want peace. And most of all we want to dismantle the fucking system,” Farah added. 

“Thank you for being brave enough to come and stand for what is right,” said Shukri Abdirahman, one of the co-organizers. “Thank you for choosing justice. We stand here today in the face of injustice. We stand here together having one vision. This is a revolution to fight for basic human rights.” 

Lead organizers and youth activists address the crowd of demonstrators at Lewiston’s largest Black Lives Matter protest of 2020 on Thursday. From left: Nelson Emanuel Peterson III, Shukri Abdirahman, Muse Farah and Shabia Abdulahi. Photo by Katie Brown.

Chants of, “police brutality has got to end,” filled the air. 

Abdirahman spoke up again, saying, “We are awake. And we are alive. And we are strong. And we are here. And you will hear us.”

Before the march started, Antoine Walton — a Lewiston resident who attended with his wife and children — prayed over the crowd. 

“We’re gonna take this walk together. We’re gonna walk in unity. We’re gonna be on one accord. We’re gonna keep peace in our hearts,” said Walton. “Just cover us on this walk. Cover Lewiston. Cover Auburn. Cover the police department. Touch their hearts, God, and let them see that we really love each other.”

Walton ended his prayer to begin a chant of, “No justice, no peace,” and Abdirahman told the crowd the demonstration was meant to be peaceful, void of chaos and at a friendly pace so that all demonstrators could join in on the walk. 

Lewiston resident Antoine Walton, pictured, prayed over the crowd before the march began. Photo by Katie Brown.

Protesters blocked both sides of Longley Bridge and lay face down with their hands behind their back in silence to honor Floyd. This demonstration has been repeated at protests across the nation and reenacts the position Floyd, a black man, was in when he was killed on May 25. Derek Chauvin — a white Minneapolis police officer — crushed Floyd’s neck with his knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as Floyd vocalized that he couldn’t breathe. 

Shukri Abdirahman marches along Longley Bridge in Lewiston as protesters silently lie face down in honor of George Floyd. Photo by Katie Brown.

While people were laying down on the pavement, a car attempted to cross the bridge, sending a wave of terror through the crowd as people scrambled to their feet to get out of the way. 

“Get out of the way! Get up! Get up now!” one person yelled from the bridge. 

Black Lives Matter protesters scramble to their feet as an oncoming vehicle approaches Longley Bridge, where they had been lying down in the street as part of a demonstration. Photo by Katie Brown.

After speaking with the driver, members of the Auburn Police Department clarified the driver was unaware of the demonstration and rerouted the car away from the ongoing protest. 

Abdirahman cried out, “They can’t hurt us anymore. We are strong. We will stand up.” 

The march continued to the Auburn Police Department, where protesters were met with officers standing at the doors of the department. Abdirahman asked the three officers to take a knee in solidarity with the protesters kneeling. 

Shukri Abdirahman leads the crowd in protest after three Auburn police officers refuse to take a knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in front of the city’s police headquarters. Photo by Katie Brown.

The three officers declined to take a knee, and the crowd began chanting, “Take a knee,” followed by, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” The standoff lasted nearly 3 minutes. 

“We’re here to protect this building, so no, I can’t protect this building sitting on my knee,” said Auburn Officer James Phillips. “I’m not trying to be defiant, but I can’t defend myself in this building — or anybody else — when I have to get up off the ground.” 

From left: Auburn police officers Tyler Barnies, James Phillips, and an unidentified Auburn police officer stand in front of the city’s police headquarters, refusing to take a knee in solidarity with protesters Thursday evening. Barnies and Phillips eventually knelt after Lt. Benjamin Quinnel emerged from inside the building and knelt. Photo by Katie Brown.

Lt. Benjamin Quinnel emerged from the building, looked to the crowd and took a knee. Two of the other three officers — Phillips and Tyler Barnies — then knelt.

Protesters headed towards downtown Lewiston, ending the protest at the Lewiston Police Department. The crowd included mothers pushing strollers, bicyclists toting signs with the Black Power fist, and people wearing medical masks with the words “Black Lives Matter” inscribed across the front. 


Katie Brown

Katie Brown covered environmental stories for The Maine Monitor. She was the organization’s second Report For America corps member and full-time reporter. Brown previously worked as a newspaper reporter and radio producer in Santa Cruz, California while earning her master's in science communication. She's investigated stories from commercial fishing boats, sacred native mountains and winding smoke-filled highways.
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