Last month, Maine’s Gov. LePage once again got our attention when he claimed to be keeping a binder of “every single drug dealer who has been arrested in our state,” 90 percent of whom, he said, are Black or Hispanic.
We couldn’t believe that was true, so we filed a public records request for the binder. On Monday, we got in line at the state house to receive our copy on CD.
What we received could best be described as a scrapbook: a random, incomplete collection of newspaper clippings and press releases from the Maine Department of Public Safety. Some press releases don’t include photos of the arrested. Some contain handwritten notes from the governor himself: “get photo for my album;” “please be sure we get all mugs with release;” “file pictures in my binder for historical value.”
While the binder paints an incomplete picture of the demographics of drug arrests in Maine, it very clearly does not support the governor’s assertions that over 90 percent of the people in his scrapbook are Black or Hispanic. While it is impossible to tell the race of all arrestees included in the binder, at least 50 of the 90 people pictured appear to be white. In other words, the governor greatly exaggerated the role people of color play in Maine’s drug trade.
The governor — the top official in our state — has agencies at his disposal that collect arrest data. Yet he pointed to a scrapbook that he compiled on his own as evidence that people of color are responsible for Maine’s drug problem. And even that scrapbook doesn’t back up his claims.
Worse still, the governor used those false claims as the basis for calling people of color the enemy. At a press conference following the binder claims, he actually said, "When you go to war… you shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”
These words cannot be brushed off as a careless misstatement. In 2015, Black people were killed by police at twice the rate of non-Black people. The last message our governor should be sending is that we should shoot at the enemy and that the enemy is people of color.
Sadly, Gov. LePage has a history of making racist statements, so much so that Maine’s largest paper felt compelled to apologize to the rest of the nation for him, while The Washington Post called for his resignation.
The governor’s statements do nothing to address Maine’s very real drug crisis. Instead, they divide our state into “us” and “them” and make people of color feel like they are under siege. Such disunity can only end in tragedy.