Bangor, Portland, Turner Residents Share Racial Profiling Experiences, Perceptions

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
June 25, 2010 12:00 am

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Racial Profiling: Face the Truth Hearing Kicks Off Campaign for National Legislation


Portland—Tomorrow Mainers from Bangor, Portland, Turner and Washington County gather to share their experiences and perceptions of racial profiling. Those testifying at today’s Racial Profiling: Face the Truth hearing include Indian tribal members, African Americans, Muslims, African refugees, Latinos and others impacted. The hearing is taking place from 1 to 4, Saturday, June 26 at the Portland Public Library in the Rines Auditorium.

“This hearing is an opportunity for our communities of color to share their experiences in a safe space,” said Rachel Talbot Ross, President of the NAACP and co-chair of the statewide Taskforce on Bias-Based Profiling. “Inviting people affected by racial profiling to share their stories is an important step towards understanding the scope of the problem in Maine over the past few decades.”

Racial and religious profiling by definition occurs when law enforcement agents target people for stops, searches or interrogations based exclusively on an individual’s perceived race, ethnicity, nationality or religion, rather than because of any reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Participants confirmed that racial profiling happens here in Maine.

“No one should feel targeted by law enforcement because of our race,” said Newell Lewey of the Sipayik Criminal Justice Commission. “Native people, African Americans, immigrants and refugees alike have all experienced fear that we or someone we love has been stopped or detained because of race. Native People are easily profiled because we can choose to have Wabanaki license plates, which makes us an easy target for law enforcement.”

Hearing participants emphasized the need for better communications between law enforcement and communities of color.

“There should be informal communication so that you build relationship and trust. I know they fear to know us and we fear to know them because of this different culture. It’s difficult to understand people that have different lives,” said Rodents Biacho, a refugee from Sudan working and attending school here in Portland. “The gap is still big because they don’t know us, and we don’t know them. We need to build relationship.”

Members of the law enforcement community have been working closely with civil rights advocates to promote better communication through a statewide Taskforce on Bias-Based established in 2009. It includes equal representation from law enforcement and the civil rights community. Some police chiefs are considering collecting data about traffic stops to see if there are racial disparities in those stops. Members of law enforcement are participating in Know Your Rights trainings for communities of color.

“The partnership between the civil rights community and law enforcement is critical to ending racial profiling in our communities,” said Brianna Twofoot, Field Director for the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “Building trust and collaboration will reduce miscommunication and racial profiling.”

Stories from the hearing will be compiled and sent to Maine’s Congressional delegation along with a call for them to support a federal ban to end racial profiling. The Maine hearing is the third of six hearings taking place all over the country organized by Rights Working Group, a coalition of groups dedicated to protecting civil liberties and human rights for all people.

Participants in Saturday’s hearing will tell their stories to a panel of civil rights experts including:

  • Thom Harnett, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Education and Enforcement, Office of the Attorney General
  • Steven Hawkins, Chief Program Officer and Executive Vice President of the national NAACP
  • Newell Lewey, Sipayik Criminal Justice Commission
  • Dennis Parker, Director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program
  • Blanca Santiago, Executive Director of Centro Latino
  • Bob Talbot, NAACP Portland and Bangor and MCLU Board of Directors

The event is being co-sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, AFSC Maine Wabanaki Program, Centro Latino, Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, Maine Civil Liberties Union, Maine Community Foundation People of Color Fund, Maine Council of Churches, Maine Initiatives, Maine People’s Alliance, the NAACP, Rights Working Group, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine, the Tides Foundation, and Tengo Voz.

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