LEWISTON — More than 30 people gathered at the gazebo at Kennedy Park Saturday evening for a “Say Their Names” rally to draw attention to those who have lost their lives to police violence.
The rally, organized by several local protestors and organizers, started at 5 p.m. with a march down Lisbon Street, onto Main Street for a short stretch, and back down Park Street before ending back at Kennedy Park.
Lewiston resident Kai Idris led the crowd, calling out and repeating several phrases over the course of the 15 minute march, including “No justice, no peace,” “Say their names,” and “We are the community.”
Periodically, Idris would call out the names of individuals who had been killed by law enforcement in other states over the last several years, including Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and the crowd would yell them back in a unified voice.
Following the march, several people spoke under the gazebo at Kennedy Park, including protester Andrew March, who spoke at length about a proposed bill in Maine, L.D. 214, that would eliminate qualified immunity for police officers, sheriffs and other law enforcement officers in Maine.
The bill went to public hearing before the Judiciary Committee in April and was subject of a work session on May 11, but was tabled for continued work and remains before the committee.
Qualified immunity was borne out of a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1967 and, over the years, it has served as a legal defense that can be used to shield police officers from lawsuits for civil rights violations.
In April, State Rep. Jeff Evangelos of Friendship, speaking to the Portland Press Herald, said that L.D. 214 will level the playing field, so when our good people are victimized by the unlawful actions of the police, they will now be able to seek redress in the courts.”
“Conversely, good police officers who do the right thing, abide by our laws and constitutional protections, have nothing to worry about,” Evangelos continued.
March said that one of the arguments he hears from people defending qualified immunity is that “99 percent of police officers are good, and it’s just one percent of them that are bad.”
“Good,” March said. “That means you should be fine with it. The good cops would stay good and they’d have credibility in their community.”
He later added that while he appreciated local law enforcement showing signs of solidarity with protesters by marching or kneeling with them, “we’re not just going to accept performative acts of solidarity.”
“We want policy change,” March said. “We want action, and I’m not going to stop until it changes. Qualified immunity is the first domino that needs to fall. There are many more that will come after that.”
March said that his words “aren’t about being anti-cop or anti law-enforcement.”
“It’s about personal responsibility and being held accountable,” he told the crowd.
After the march, Lewiston Police Det. Joe Philippon told the crowd that over the last year, he has been “looking inward” and “asking myself, ‘What am I doing to make things better for myself, as a person of color,’ and I can say, I haven’t done enough.”
Philippon said that he has been trying to challenge himself to “learn and listen more” and to “speak up” when he sees something wrong.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of talk, and I, for one, am about action,” he added.
Philippon drew attention to some of the actions Lewiston had taken over the last few years toward making positive changes in the community, including the creation of an ad-hoc committee in July of 2020 on equity and diversity to ensure that the city treats all residents and visitors equally and that its workforce represents our community’s diversity.”
He also drew attention to the revival of an initiative called “Project Support You,” which pairs crisis workers with police officers to help treat those suffering from mental health issues and substance misuse disorder.
“These are some of the actions over the years that make me hopeful moving forward,” Philippon said. “I know we still have a long way to go.”