HOULTON, Maine — Citizens, activists and religious leaders gathered at the Houlton Visitor’s Center on Saturday, June 13, to demand racial equality in America and to highlight the injustices committed in the death of George Floyd.
Floyd died when Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. Black Lives Matter protests have occurred all over the country since, demanding racial equality and an end to police brutality.
“We believe that black and indigenous lives deserve to matter equally, to be cared for equally, to be served equally, to be loved equally, to be heard equally, and to be protected equally,” the four wrote in a prepared statement posted on Facebook before the rally took place. “We believe that our community is stronger together. We believe that people and systems can change, and that we need to call people into our shared cause and not just call them out.”
The event featured several speakers of all races and ethnicities, as they described their own struggles with racial injustice and the need to come together to fight against inequality.
Otis Edgecomb, a member of the United States Marine Corps and who grew up in Fort Fairfield, said he felt it was his duty as an American citizen to protest the inequality and injustice in America, and called on others to do the same.
“One thing we preached in the Marine Corps is when you see something wrong, no matter how small or how trivial you think it may be, you should call it out, or as what we said ‘correct it’,” said Edgecomb. “I see something wrong going on in America.”
Edgecomb, who identified himself as half-black, half-white, spoke of one time seeing several Confederate flags while driving from Bangor to Fort Fairfield, saying it made him feel unwelcome and, against his better judgment, anger.
“Past actions in the name of tradition, in the name of belonging, or in the name of some self-misguided view of the world can still be wrong,” he said. “What’s wrong is wrong, and what’s right is right.”
Rosalind Morgan of Linneus, who runs a design and photography business, also spoke at the rally, described her experiences as an African-American who has lived in Northern Maine for the last 37 years. While she said there has been much progress made in the treatment of both blacks and indigenous in the region, there remains work to be done in ending racism.
“This is here, not just in our counties and in our state, it’s in our country,” said Morgan. “We’re not some separate little enclave. We come, we go and we take our ideas and our actions with us. And we need to do better.”
Other speakers at the event included Richard Silliboy, vice chief of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Rev. David Hutchinson of the Houlton Unitarian Universalist Church, and Adrian Aponte of the Houlton Salvation Army.
Following the end of the speakers, rally goers were asked to kneel in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the exact amount of time Chauvin had pressed his knee onto Floyd to cause his death. It was then followed by a group singing of “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers, a song that has been performed at other Black Lives Matter rallies and protests across the country.
Houlton Police Department also attended the event, and had suggested the change in venue from its original location of the Houlton Amphitheatre after receiving a tip that outside groups might try to disrupt the event. Foster and other organizers thanked Houlton Police Department for their support, and stressed that the event was against racism and police brutality in general, and not against local law enforcement.