By Hannah Reimann
I spent two weeks in June on Vinalhaven Island, Maine. Reachable by ferryboat from Rockland, it has a year-round population of 1200. The only guideline for out-of-state visitors at that time was to quarantine for 14 days. I could walk on the shore or wilderness near our family cottage, alone. I complied happily, watching the seals, eagles and raccoons during their changing shifts of appearances in the tidal cove in front of the house in between my hours work online. I was in heaven. Suddenly, politics and any pandemic were far away, or so it seemed. I think I saw six people total, one or two on different days, the entire two weeks I was there.
To my surprise, on my first Friday there, I saw on my Facebook page that about 60 local island people were marching a “Black Lives Matter” protest, walking from the town’s only large parking lot to the ferry terminal less than half a mile away. I was moved nearly to tears, having departed from a city of throngs of thousands of protestors, cars lit on fire, looting and plywood covering the windows of businesses not far from my home in the Village. The demonstrations on Vinalhaven were peaceful and featured cardboard cutouts of lobsters, identifying the local businesses and marine life, creative BLM signs and people of all ages including kids. Most of them were white, many had come from other states. A young boy carried a sign that said, “Tamir Rice,” another held a, “Michael Brown” sign. One or two protestors were black or brown. The protest ended with 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence, remembering George Floyd. Marches were initiated by two women on the island, ad hoc, and spread by word of mouth and email.
Then on Sunday, some of my friends contacted me with the alarming news that a brawl had broken out between a twenty-eight man and a twenty-seven year old man during the wee hours on Saturday night. One of them wielded a knife or a hatchet at the other, striking him in the neck and causing him to die. The wife of the assailant had to be rushed to the mainland hospital; somehow during this violent altercation, her hand had been partially severed. Although I didn’t want to hear this news, I was glad to be ears to my friends who lived on or near Roberts Cemetary Road where the incident happened. They had reluctantly come across its aftermath. They needed to talk about it whether they were a lobsterman, Greg Hopkins, up at 5am to haul, Addison Ames another lobsterman who also tends to the cutting of trees, or Jeff Aronson, an EMT who had to deal with the bloody mess and transporting the dead and wounded off island. My friends are tough, but they also have tender hearts, a wonderful aspect of the community there.
Everyone finds out if there’s a hearse on the ferry leaving the island.
I was in shock for a few days, keeping to myself as always, calming down by anticipating the next seal sighting in between teaching remote music lessons to my New York students via FaceTime and walking in the nature preserve nearby.
A few days later, an even more unusual, eye-catching Facebook post came up on my wall: another demonstration, only this time there seemed to be more than a hundred people in attendance. Most of the signs read, “Justice for Roger.” Others read, “Killers Don’t Walk Free,” “Protect Our Community! Lock Up Dorian Ames!” and “Roger Was a Son.” Roger Feltis was the sternman and clammer who bled to death from the knife or hatchet wounds. The community was furious that Dorian Ames, the assailant who has a lengthy police record, was not in jail. Roger’s death was ruled a homicide, but Dorian was not yet arrested. I was amazed by the passion and determination displayed on the streets, including the tender laying of a floral wreath into the harbor by Roger’s girlfriend, Jennie. I noticed my lovely caretaker, Ashley Davis-Oakes, in the crowd. I was proud of her. Near her in the photos, signs read, “Justice 4 Jennie’s True Love” and “Roger’s Life Matters.”
Apparently, every Friday for the past month, people gather to protest in the town. It’s the only gathering they’ve done since March, with everyone wearing masks, sometimes keeping distance from each other, proclaiming on signs, “A Better World Is Possible,” “End Police Brutality,” and “What Do We Do When The Marches Are Over?” But Justice for Roger will always stand out in my memory as the protest that was quintessentially Vinalhaven. Neither Roger or Dorian are originally from the island; they had moved there recently. The locals know how to stand up for their community. There are not many police officers on the island and the community rose to the occasion to create peace and demand justice.
On the Tuesday that I left the island on the 7am boat, Dorian Ames came back to the island to pick his belongings up and the town was on fire. Ashley told me that
he wore a bullet-proof vest for his ferry ride because the cops were concerned of what might happen to him on journey back to the mainland. Later, I read in a local online paper that thirty protestors surrounded his former home, peacefully, waiting for him to arrive. According to the news report, he spat out the window in response and “was arrested Tuesday after he gave the finger to a crowd that had been protesting the homicide.” I wasn’t aware that “giving the finger” was disorderly conduct, however, I am sure that the consensus is unanimous that there are many reasons that this individual needs to be incarcerated. Perhaps the protests won’t stop until he is. They were still going on in Rockland when I wrote this.