PORTLAND – Civil rights advocates said Wednesday that racial profiling by law enforcement is a problem that occurs across the country, including Maine, and that national legislation is needed to define and ban it.

Maine police representatives, however, said profiling is not a problem in this state and saying so tarnishes the reputation of all officers here.

The Maine Civil Liberties Union and the Maine People’s Alliance held a press conference in front of the federal courthouse to announce the release of a national report on racial profiling, intended to support the End Racial Profiling Act, a bill being submitted to Congress.

“Racial profiling is when law enforcement investigates someone based on race, when there is nothing else linking that person to a crime,” said Ben Chin of the Maine People’s Alliance.

The problem is most apparent in the war on drugs, immigration crackdowns, counterterrorism efforts and cooperation by local police in immigration enforcement, Chin said.

The national report summarizes testimony from hearings across the country this summer — including Maine — citing incidents in which people were stopped or questioned for no reason other than their ethnicity.

The extent and nature of the problem vary from state to state, so a national law would create a single standard and provide remedies to people who are stopped or questioned for no justifiable reason, said Chin.

Eda Trejo, a woman from El Salvador who moved to Maine eight months ago, said at the press conference that she has been stopped twice by Portland police for no apparent reason.

In one case, the officer said there had been thefts in the area and asked for her documentation. In another, she said, the officer said he misread her license plate number.

In neither case was she issued a ticket or accused of doing anything wrong, she said.

Often, victims of racial profiling are questioned and released with no record of the interaction, so the extent of the problem is difficult to document, said Alysia Melnick of the MCLU. That makes it hard to know how serious the problem is in Maine.

She said a task force formed by the Legislature is seeking to collect data to determine the extent to which racial profiling occurs in Maine.

The Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law, she said, but there are major obstacles for victims who want to file complaints or take legal action.

Racial profiling creates suspicion in minority communities, making members of those communities less likely to cooperate with authorities on important investigations and initiatives, the advocates said. That makes it harder for police to ensure the safety and freedom of all people in a community, they said.

Sgt. Michael Edes, president of the Maine State Troopers Association and chairman of the National Troopers Coalition, said accusations of racial profiling in Maine are invariably anecdotes that can’t be substantiated.

“What really bothers me about this is I compare Maine with all around this country and we have zero problem with racial profiling,” he said.

Edes said that checking on unusual activity or people who seem out of place in an area is not harassment, but is important in determining what’s going in a community and providing public safety.

“You cannot be a good cop in Maine or anywhere else in the U.S. and not be against racial profiling,” Edes said. “I just really take offense when we get painted with the same brush as a couple bad cops from out of state.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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