A group of local residents is planning to host a Black Lives Matter peaceful protest Tuesday in downtown Bethel.

The march begins at 3 p.m. in the town common and will proceed along the sidewalk down Main Street.

While demonstrations have been held across the country and here in Maine to protest last month’s killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis and other cases of police brutality, this will be the first march held in Bethel.

“We’re trying to set up a peaceful march to show our support and solidarity of that cause,” said Savannah Sessions, one of the organizers.

“The goal is to have a place where the do-no-harm mindset is the norm in the world,” Sessions added. “Living in a just and equitable world is a huge benefit.”

She has no idea how large of a crowd to expect Tuesday.

The protest was originally scheduled for Monday, but postponed until Tuesday so it would not interfere with the middle school graduation.

Sessions said the protest is not directed at local law enforcement, but at police brutality in general as seen in several high-profile incidents across the country.

Bethel, which does not have a local police department, is patrolled by the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office.

“We know our police here,” Sessions said. “We are so fortunate. Our county police are always available, friendly and out in the community.”

The protest will include people holding signs and chanting. No formal “die-in,” where protesters lie on the ground is planned, Sessions said.

She has notified Oxford County Sheriff’s Office and Bethel Town Manager Loretta Powers about the planned march.

“It seemed pretty simple at first, but I think it’s gone beyond that now,” Powers said.

She was referring to a message on Facebook posted by Mark Paaso promising that residents would be out in force to protect the town. The message was accompanied with two photos of people holding assault weapons.

“In response to the BLM protest on Tuesday I want to invite anyone concerned about the safety of the town to join us in providing security during this event. There will be a group of private citizens ensuring that no businesses or private property are damaged, looted, set on fire, or otherwise compromised,” the statement read.

Sessions does not expect any violence or rioting by her group, but admits the presence of assault weapons is “scary” and is meant to intimidate her and other protesters.

Oxford County Sheriff Christopher Wainwright said he does not expect any problems. He said organizers of the march have reached out to his office, stressing that the gathering will be peaceful.

“The organizers are doing the right thing. They’re asking the right questions,” Wainwright said.

“Bethel is a good area. I don’t anticipate any problems at all. We’ll be watching it, but I don’t see any issues on either side,” he added.

According to Facebook, marchers are asked to wear masks and practice social distancing.


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