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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.