Dozens on Presque Isle’s Main Street protest police brutality and racism
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — More than 30 people protested police brutality and racism in the criminal justice system in Presque Isle on Saturday, June 6.
Protestors demonstrated on Main Street across from the Aroostook Centre Mall from 9 to 11 a.m. The group called for police reform and an end to systemic racism, holding up signs featuring slogans like “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice for George Floyd.”
It was the latest County iteration of a nationwide movement that had erupted since the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis Police custody on May 25. Prosecutors have since charged Officer Derek Chauvin — who bystanders filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes — with second-degree murder.
Protests reacting to Floyd’s death have also occurred in Fort Kent and Caribou. It was the second such event in Presque Isle, with a protest happening in the same spot last Saturday.
Organizer Otis Edgecomb of Fort Fairfield said the demonstration was about fighting racial bias nationwide. While he said he had experienced positive interactions with police departments in Caribou and Presque Isle, Saturday’s display was about ensuring that what happened to Floyd won’t be repeated.
Reaction from the community had generally been positive, Edgecomb said. Dozens of cars passed by the protestors, with several beeping or waving in support. Edgecomb said some had verbally opposed other protests he had attended in Presque Isle and Caribou.
Indeed, on Saturday one person drove by yelling “All Lives Matter,” a slogan often used by opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement. Several protestors responded with disdain when they heard the phrase.
“If you want to say something that is meaningful, I’m all ears. I’m all about listening, all about hearing different perspectives,” Edgecomb said. “But if you’re going to be negative, be disrespectful and devalue the movement, we don’t want to hear you.”
It was the first ever protest for 15-year-old Elijah, who was inspired to take part after watching a video of Floyd’s death with his older sister.
“I wasn’t really interested in politics or elections or anything,” Elijah said. “But I knew I couldn’t stay silent after watching that video.”
Lillie Lavado of Presque Isle — founder of the HardScrabble Solutions coworking space and a candidate for Maine House District 147 — helped spread the word for Saturday’s protest.
Lavado said fighting systemic racism is about addressing racial bias in several sectors of American society, including education. Yet, a change in policing is an essential part of the solution.
“The overhaul of law enforcement is going to be a long process, a revolutionary one,” Lavado said. “It is going to require people to think radically and have a major mind shift.”
In recent local protests, she said she had met people from The County’s big communities, but also much smaller ones, including Perham and Washburn.
With protests gaining much more steam nationwide in large cities, she said it was imperative for people to bring that mindset back to their rural communities, many of which may be less aware of issues related to police brutality and racism.
For Edgecomb and other attendees, the intention was to peacefully get their message out to as many people as possible. Several said they were satisfied with the turnout and the energy they saw on that rainy day.
“I feel empowered,” Edgecomb said. “This has opened our eyes to how many people are actually on our side, on the side of justice and change.”
A previous version of this article said Lillie Lavado is the “CEO” of HardScrabble Solutions. Her official title is “founder.”