From left, Uther Dadaleares, Luthando Mngqibisa and Gabe Hirst in Portland’s Monument Square. The three friends made a 24-minute video documenting the recent protests in Portland. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

As the demonstrations over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis spread around the country – eventually flooding the streets of Portland with crowds demanding racial justice and an end to police brutality – three teenagers were moved to produce their first documentary.

Luthando Mngqibisa, Uther Dadaleares and Gabe Hirst, all 17, quickly turned footage of the protests into a ground-level view of the Portland demonstrations, which began on May 29 and stretched into the following week.

The three recent high school graduates have been close since middle school, bonding over their love of music and video production.

Their creative energy mostly had been focused on personal projects. Hirst, a Westbrook High School graduate, and Dadaleares publish short films on a YouTube channel, Gooberz Inc., and plan to pursue careers in film production. Mngqibisa and Dadaleares perform together as part of the trio BigDaddyGang, and are graduates of Casco Bay High School; Mngqibisa says he wants to study music composition and performance in college.

But the death of Floyd marked a turning point for them. Hirst and Dadaleares, who are white, said they have watched how the killings of black and brown people across the country by police have left a ripple of pain in the lives of their Black friends, including Mngqibisa, who has a white American mother and a father originally from South Africa. Dadaleares and Hirst approached Mngqibisa with an idea: Why not put their production skills to use by filming the demonstrations in Portland?

“I feel like it’s my duty to attend something like this, especially when I know Luthando’s family was hurting,” Dadaleares said.

Mngqibisa’s mother, Kimberly, herself a fierce advocate for racial equality, agreed to accompany them, and over multiple days and nights, they recorded hours of footage depicting the passionate calls by young people for police reform and an end to systemic racism.

“I have to say, I’ve met a lot of white people who have shown up who might not even have kids of color or aren’t married (to a person of color),” said Kimberly Mngqibisa, 50, of Portland. “These people are showing up because it’s a human thing, it’s the right thing to do. Because white silence is violence.”

A screen shot from the 24-minute documentary on the recent protests in Portland made by Uther Dadaleares, Luthando Mngqibisa and Gabe Hirst.

While demonstrations over the death of Black men at the hands of police have roiled the country since the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by a white police officer, the latest round of demonstrations have drawn more white Americans than in years past.

A June 12 poll by the Pew Research Center found that most Americans now support the Black Lives Matter movement, with 67 percent saying they either strongly support or somewhat support the movement’s goals. The same poll found that conversations about race among friends and family members are also on the rise; 69 percent of the poll’s respondents, including majorities across racial and ethnic lines, say they had done so recently.

“As the majority, it is our responsibility to educate other white people,” Hirst said. “White people are ‘the system’ right now. We have to be the catalyst to the change.”

While they felt they were there in support of the movement, they tried to shed any preconceptions about what the resulting film might show. The resulting 24-minute documentary,  posted on YouTube last month, “No Justice No Peace – The Documentary” captures the emotional, sometimes intense, experience of demonstrators, and shows some of the speeches delivered on the steps of City Hall, in Monument Square and at the police station.

“We tried to get the main ideas pushed out there: voting, getting young people to vote,” Mngqibisa said. “Also, this is not just a white versus Black problem, this is a systematic problem, a human problem. The message we’re trying to push is that young people will be the pillars of our new society, our changing society, and to get young people to try to realize the power they have.”

Since the documentary was posted on June 22, it’s been viewed more than 1,700 times, and the filmmakers have received messages of support and gratitude since, they said.

It also includes the chaotic, confrontational night of June 1, when dozens of police officers – some clad in riot gear – responded to a sometimes violent, destructive crowd that damaged several businesses.

As the evening wore on that night and the official demonstration ended, a group of a few hundred people remained outside the Portland police station at 109 Middle St. Some demonstrators lobbed water bottles, rocks and bricks, or set off fireworks. Police responded with bursts of pepper spray. The documentary captures some of the acts of vandalism, when demonstrators spray-painted messages on the building and on doors.

The filmmakers also captured how activists attempted to tamp down violence by some in the crowd who appeared to be only there to cause trouble or start confrontations.

“I think a lot of people attended (that night) just to riot, and they’re not a part of the protest at that point,” Dadaleares said. “Their intentions weren’t with Black Lives Matter.”

No one was seriously injured. However, demonstrators were hit with pepper spray, and a handful of police officers reported being struck by flying objects or were doused by urine-filled bottles flung in their direction. In all, 23 people were arrested that night, mostly for the misdemeanor charge of failure to disperse. That evening’s confrontation with police has for weeks been the focus of the Portland City Council, which is debating whether the incident deserves an independent, outside review.

“Anger is a big part of this movement,” Mngqibisa said. “People are fed up. What … we want people to know, is please look at this for the message. It was a couple days of things were vandalized. We tried to make it not about what happened then, because it wasn’t the message of the protest.”

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