City officials Tuesday spoke with the leaders of two groups that have brought more than 1,000 demonstrators into Portland’s streets over the past four days to protest racism and police brutality.

Portland’s police chief, city manager and mayor, along with other state and local officials, met virtually on Tuesday with two organizers of the downtown protests to listen to concerns that have fueled angry marches around the country. Officials also made contact with a third organizer, whose rally Monday night turned destructive and confrontational and led to a prolonged clash with police that lasted into Tuesday morning.

The meetings and phone calls represent a game of catch-up for city officials, who had been trying to make contact with organizers since Friday, City Manager Jon Jennings said. Part of the delay stems from the shutdown of city government in response to the coronavirus pandemic, he said, and the organic nature of the demonstrations themselves.

“What happened in Minnesota was beyond outrageous,” Jennings said. “So we understand the anger that’s in the community. So, in the beginning we’ve wanted to work cooperatively with them but we didn’t really know who the organizers were.”

Jennings said typically when groups want to demonstrate, they can communicate with city officials. But the COVID-19 response has led to furloughs, including of the permitting staff who typically handle requests for police and city assistance during demonstrations. That left the city without a clear idea of logistics or what to expect.

Hamdia Ahmed and Abdul Ali, who organized a protest on Friday and are now planning a demonstration Wednesday outside the Portland police station, met via a Zoom meeting with city leaders to discuss issues of race and policing, and the broad, overarching issue of police treatment of black and brown people across the country, Police Chief Frank Clark said. The problems are systemic, Ahmed said, and she did not single out the Portland department, according to Clark.

Other participants in the meeting were Portland Mayor Kate Snyder, Maine Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Sauschuck, Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck, Westbrook Police Chief Janine Roberts, Portland City Councilor Pious Ali and representatives of the Portland school department, said Jessica Grondin, a city spokeswoman.

“We did a lot of listening,” Clark said. “They articulated that they wanted to be heard. They wanted us to hear them. We vowed to continue the conversations.”

Ahmed told the police leaders they wanted the protests to be peaceful, Clark said.

Reached Tuesday, Ahmed declined to speak to a reporter.

Jennings, the city manager, has also kept in contact with another organizer, David Thete, who put together the demonstration on Monday evening that drew an estimated 1,000 protesters and later turned violent and confrontational. Jennings said he is working to get Clark and Thete to meet, and to arrange for Clark to speak to demonstrators at some point, but it was unclear whether he would do so Tuesday night or at some point in the future.

Thete’s group has sought since Friday to place a memorial on the steps leading to the Portland Police station dedicated to all people of color killed by police, but repeatedly that memorial has been moved or taken down after demonstrations subside. On Tuesday, Jennings reached a compromise. Signs, candles and other mementos will be moved away from the staircase so they don’t block the staircase.

Jennings also addressed police and protester conduct at the Monday rally, and blamed agitators from out of state for causing trouble.

“The police were not antagonistic until it began to spiral out of control, meaning there were rocks in socks being flung, bottles of urine being thrown at officers, bricks being thrown at officers,” Jennings said. “At some point you have to take matters into your hands to restore public order. The folks who were causing the problems last night were not part of the people (demonstrating), they were coming from all over New England, from Massachusetts.”

Asked how he knew the home community of some of the roughly 1,000 people who crammed the streets, he at first said the city has “sources and methods.” He said police, to his knowledge, are not monitoring cell phone traffic, but instead are monitoring social media.

“Do you have SnapChat?” Jennings said.

Different groups of demonstrators have gathered by the hundreds in downtown Portland since last Friday, as similar and sometimes more violent protests erupted in cities across the country.

Ahmed organized a demonstration last Friday in which hundreds of people blocked traffic along Franklin Street and at Congress Square Park near High and Congress streets. Thete’s demonstration – also last Friday – saw hundreds of other demonstrators march on City Hall and the police station on Middle Street.

Thete’s group returned Sunday, and demonstrators demanded to meet with Clark.

Clark did not address a crowd of protesters who gathered outside the police station Sunday. On Monday, he said he reached out to organizers to arrange a meeting or meetings.

Requests for an interview with Thete left through social media were not returned Monday or Tuesday, and Ahmed said Tuesday afternoon she would release a statement regarding Clark’s offer, and declined to speak on the phone.

Clark on Tuesday said he is viewing the confrontation and the escalation that occurred Monday as an anomaly.

“We certainly won’t condone breaking the law and the destruction of property,” Clark said. “But we’re literally going into this as a new day, and hope we see the level of cooperation we had (last) Friday and we’re going to ask people and plead with people to work with us in that regard.”

Clark has made several statements condemning Floyd’s death, but has not directly called the incident murder as some police officials in other cities have.

Other city officials have spoken about Floyd’s death and the demonstrations, which have taken place in hundreds of cities across the country and drawn millions of participants demanding racial justice and police reform.

Portland’s City Council passed a resolution Monday condemning the recent killings of unarmed black men in other states and “all forms of racism and police brutality.” The resolution says city leaders pledge to protect the rights of all people and commits to “calling out hate and discrimination when we see it.”

Mayor Kate Snyder spoke in support of the council’s proclamation condemning racism and police brutality, and has posted messages on Facebook condemning the killing of Floyd and supporting the peaceful protests.

In a video posted on Facebook Monday, Snyder says she was outraged, stunned, sad and left speechless by Floyd’s death. She thanked those speaking up and shining light “on this horrific crime” and offered love and compassion to Floyd’s family and his community, and to the Portland community.

On Tuesday, she posted that she plans to attend a peaceful protest Wednesday afternoon in Portland.

Her posts have generated some support, as well as criticism from people who want the mayor and other city leaders to be more visible and to address the outrage publicly.

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