Amaryllis Charles of Waterville, wearing a green backpack and hoisting an American flag, kneels with other protesters Monday afternoon on the sidewalk on Elm Street as people gather near the Universalist-Unitarian Church. “I want to protest injustices that are going on in our country,” Charles said. Michael G. Seamans/ Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Amaryllis Charles stood on the sidewalk Monday afternoon wearing a dark-blue face mask.

She dropped to one knee, hoisting an American flag above her bowed head. Her friends and others along the sidewalk joined in, also dropping to one knee.

This moment was personal for Charles, who graduated recently from Waterville Senior High School.

“I am angry and I am hurt,” she said. “These are black people that look like me being killed in the streets, and the people who are doing it aren’t being held accountable.”

Charles was one of the hundreds of protesters who gathered at the Universalist-Unitarian Church on Silver Street in Waterville to denounce “systemic racism,” joining the chorus of protests across the country.

Several demonstrators also gathered at about 6 p.m. Monday outside the Waterville Police Department on Colby Street, where they kneeled for nine minutes to commemorate George Floyd, who died last Monday while in police custody in Minneapolis. The peaceful gathering was made especially poignant when Waterville police Chief Joseph P. Massey kneeled in solidarity with the demonstrators.

The unrest locally and nationwide came after Floyd, 46, was killed by Derek Chauvin, 44, a former police officer in Minneapolis who has since been fired, arrested and charged with third-degree murder.

Joseph Massey, police chief of the Waterville police department, takes a knee in solidarity with protesters to police brutality Monday during a protests at the police station in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes — including almost three minutes while Floyd was unresponsive, according to court documents.

At the protest Monday afternoon in Waterville, Charles held a sign that read: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

“I want to protest injustices that are going on in our country,” Charles said. “It’s absolutely absurd and we need to hold these officers accountable. I know for a fact that this stuff is happening in this country, and I’m not ignorant. It’s happening every single day. The only difference now is that it’s being recorded.”

The protest was organized partly by former Waterville Mayor Karen Heck. Although she has been following the news, Heck said she has not watched the footage that a bystander took, where Chauvin was shown with his knee on the back of George Floyd’s neck.

“Pope Paul VI said in 1972, ‘If you want peace, work for justice,'” Heck said. “To me, that’s what we need to do to really make this country live up to its potential. As a white person, it’s our responsibility to take that work on.

“I think that people of color, whether it’s African American, Native Americans or Latino, have been working at that and trying to show us how we can reach our potential as a great nation, and I think it’s time for white people to really stand up, be heard, be allies and vote for a regime change.”

Heck was seen greeting protesters and handing out American flags. She made it clear that the protest was not anti-police, but, instead, anti-structural racism. A Waterville police officer could be seen giving a thumbs-up to demonstrators while driving by in a police cruiser Monday afternoon.

A Waterville police officer gives a thumbs-up to demonstrators Monday afternoon near the Universalist-Unitarian Church in Waterville.

The protest began at noon, with about 100 people lining Silver and Elm streets. Many were wearing face masks and holding signs in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. By 1 p.m., the crowd had grown to more than 200.

Among the protesters were Joe and Hillary Baldinelli, who said that their daughter, Sophia, 9, asked to come with them to the protest. Joe Baldinelli said that as a former corrections officer, he was rejected from the law enforcement industry after speaking up against the injustices of some of his colleagues.

“I have seen firsthand officers getting away with provocation, and they turn around and write up the individual that they provoked,” Baldinelli said. “When I pressed my concerns with it, I was blackballed from the industry because I said something about it.”

The Baldinelli’s said that they have raised their daughter to not see color, but to know what inequality and injustices are and how to address them.

“We have always explained it to her that skin color doesn’t matter,” Joe Baldinelli said. “People are people. Explaining inequality has been one of the most-difficult things to explain to our daughter because she doesn’t see the difference in skin color. To explain what happened, I had to tell her that a policeman killed somebody for no reason. (Floyd) was unarmed and that really bothered her, so she wanted to come with us today.”

Added Sophia Baldinelli: “I think segregation shouldn’t be there. It should be about equality. (Floyd’s death) made me very mad and sad. Equality is better than segregation.”

Danae Jacobson was also at the protest with her daughter, Maggie, 3. While Jacobson said she cannot explain what is happening to her other child at home, an infant, she is working to explain what is happening Maggie.

A passenger in car holds a sign Monday afternoon that reads “Justice” as demonstrators protest near the Universalist-Unitarian Church in Waterville. The protesters demanded equal rights and justice for all in the wake of George Floyd’s death last Monday while in police custody in Minneapolis. Michael G. Seamans/ Morning Sentinel

“I want to stand with the black community and I don’t want to be silent,” Jacobson said. “I’m angry, I’ve had it and I’ve just been thinking of the ways that I can support and educate my kids about white privilege and racism.

“We’ve talked to my 3-year-old about how some people hurt other people because of the color of their skin, and we talked about wanting to stand up for justice and to say, “No, this is not OK.” That’s why we came here today: To say that it’s not OK to hurt other people because of their skin color.”

The protest lasted about an hour, ending at about 1 p.m. Drivers honked their horns in support as participants shared a few chants.

Throughout the demonstration, Heck, a Democrat, was seen moving about the crowd, reminding participants they face an important decision in November.

“Remember to vote,” Heck said. “And work for candidates that will bring about change.”

On Sunday, more than 300 people marched the streets of Portland, while more than 35 gathered in Skowhegan.

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