AUGUSTA — A crowd of more than 1,000 gathered Sunday afternoon in the shadow of the State House in Augusta to peacefully protest institutional racism and police brutality.

Protesters first gathered between the State House and Cross Building to hear organizers and several other speakers, before marching down Capitol Street, around Capitol Park.

The assemblage was another in a wave of protests that has erupted nationwide after the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died while in police custody May 25 when Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, kneeled on the back of Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.

People stand Sunday on the names chalked in the sidewalk of victims of police shootings during the Black Lives Matter protest in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Many protesters in Augusta carried signs or banners, some reading, “End racial injustice,” “Defund the police” or “Silence is violence.”

Organizer Yasmine Wadleigh of Augusta, a daughter of a black mother and white father, said she has been treated differently because of the color of her skin.

“My family was scared for my life to come hear and speak today,” she said. “That is a fear white people in this country will never have.”

Organizer Patrick Webber of Monmouth said he, a white male, has had to address the racism that had been instilled in him by loved ones.

“There’s no excuse for that,” Webber said. “You can unlearn (racism) and be educated.”

Webber then read a list of names of black people who were killed by police. As he did, many of the protesters got down on one knee.

“This is why we protest,” Webber shouted. “This is why we are here.”

Augusta Mayor David Rollins and a number of area legislators appeared briefly at the event. As Rollins attempted to read a proclamation passed by the Augusta City Council, protesters drowned him out by chanting, “Black lives matter.”

“We want to hear black people,” one protester shouted before Rollins, who is white, handed the megaphone to an organizer.

Another speaker, who was not identified, urged that Rollins change policies and laws instead of reading proclamations.

Protesters display signs Sunday during the Black Lives Matter protest in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“We don’t need to hear that,” she said.

The same speaker, a black woman, urged protesters to “break” the criminal justice system. She also spoke of the “all lives matter” rebuttal to the Black Lives Matter movement, saying everyone knows all lives matter, but “we are the ones being killed by cops.”

“We’re sick and tired of fighting this never-ending battle,” she said. “I’m used to the (expletive) pain.”

The Rev. James Varner, 86, urged protesters to contact “at least 100 people personally” after the event to get them involved in the movement.

During his comments, Varner, who said he worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., began to sing about how his “black brothers and sisters are victims” of police violence. As Varner sang, protesters snapped their fingers along with his words.

“Let’s stay behind this,” he said, closing his comments. “It’s not up to someone else to do this job of healing the nation. It’s within your grasp.”

After a half-dozen speakers delivered their remarks, the wave of protesters set off down Capitol Street. At the corner of Union Street, a man stood outside a home and yelled, “Aborted babies matter.”

A group of protesters surrounded the man, but other protesters formed a four-person barrier between the man and the marching protesters. The conflict never went beyond words, with the man eventually walking toward his house.

When the head of the group reached the Blaine House, organizers told protesters to lie down and be silent for almost nine minutes. The protesters stretched from the Blaine House, along State Street by the State House and looped about halfway down Union Street.

Robert Sprague makes a sign with his mother, Destie Hohman, on Sunday during the Black Lives Matter protest in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The protesters again walked around Capitol Park, settling in the field beside the Kennebec Valley YMCA to listen to other speakers.

One of the speakers, Safiya Khalid, the first Somali American to win a seat on the Lewiston City Council, at age 23, urged protesters to press their local and state governments on several police reforms, including creating citizen review boards for police departments and replacing school resource officers with social workers. She also urged others to run for office, as she did.

“I was not elected to be silent,” Khalid said. “I was given a mic and damn well I will (expletive) use it.”

There was very little visible police presence among the protesters, with most members of law enforcement only visible near marked cruisers or other police vehicles that were blocking streets where protesters were demonstrating.

Augusta Police Chief Jared Mills could not be reached Sunday for comment.

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