Criminal justice and race relations experts say the only value in pointing out the race of a drug dealer – as Gov. Paul LePage has done several times since January – is to inflame the public.

“I don’t think his remarks have any bearing on the real issue, except to deflect and create tensions,” said Shay Stewart-Bouley, executive director of Community Change, a Boston-based organization devoted to fighting racial injustice and a blogger who writes “Black Girl in Maine.” “It does nothing to address the matter of addiction, but what it does do is inflame racial tensions at a time when we need it the least.”

Stewart-Bouley said the governor is using race to distract the public from the real issue – dealing effectively with Maine’s drug epidemic.

LePage first brought up the issue in January, telling a town hall meeting in Bridgton that dealers with names like “D-Money, Smoothie and Shifty” were coming to Maine from Connecticut and New York to sell drugs, adding, “Half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave.” He raised it again last week in North Berwick in answering a question about whether his comments have created a “toxic environment” in the state.

The governor said he’s been compiling a binder on drug trafficking arrests since his initial comments and “90-plus percent of those pictures in my book, and it’s a three-ringed binder, are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Connecticut, the Bronx and Brooklyn.”

Federal statistics on drug trafficking arrests in Maine, however, suggest a situation nearly the opposite of what LePage described.

The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Service reported that, in 2014, 1,211 people were arrested for selling or making drugs in Maine, and, of those, 170 – or 14.1 percent – were black.

Criminal justice experts from Maine and across the country speculated that LePage’s comments were intended to divert attention from a larger issue that the governor has been unable to solve – stemming the tide of illegal drugs into the state and finding treatment for those who have become addicted.

WIDESPREAD DISPARITIES IN ENFORCEMENT

The experts agree there is no reason for the governor to be bringing up race when talking about drug addiction. They say there is no value in pointing out the race of a drug dealer other than to inflame the public.

“There are widespread disparities in enforcing laws against communities of color. It’s a problem not just in Maine, but around the country and we’ve seen that play out in a whole range of areas. It sounds like your governor is acting short on facts and heavy on myths,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Criminal Law Reform Project in New York.

Edwards said the data that the governor claims to have obtained about drug crime as it pertains to race are probably not accurate, which the FBI statistics suggest to be the case.

Edwards said there are plenty of studies that demonstrate that whites are more likely to sell drugs than blacks, but are far less likely to be arrested, and that’s often a function of where police focus. Edwards said that, in Maine, that could mean police officers are less likely to conduct a drug bust at Bates College, Colby College or the University of Maine and more likely to focus on neighborhoods with more black residents.

He said any data that suggest blacks are using and dealing drugs at rates that exceed whites is “just a symptom of where police are directing their resources.”

“I would suspect that in Maine there are many drug sales that are being carried out by white people, just like there are many people that are buying the drugs who are white,” Edwards said.

‘WAR ON DRUGS … RACIALLY SKEWED’

People focused more on race in the early years of the “war on drugs,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, which studies criminal justice, sentencing policies and race.

He said there was a large disparity in arrests and punishment for crack and powder cocaine in those early years, and much of it was based on race. Crack was seen as the drug of choice of African-Americans and powder cocaine was a drug primarily used by whites, and the arrest rates and punishment for crack offenses were much harsher than enforcement and sentences for using powder cocaine.

People see the inequity now, Mauer said.

“It’s taken a long time, but there’s growing recognition that the war on drugs has been racially skewed,” he said, and people are now trying to separate race from the drug problem and enforcement of drug laws. There’s even a move to drop the whole concept of a war on drugs “because you don’t make war on your own people,” he said.

Mauer said he doubts that LePage’s figures are correct, at least on the street level of drug dealing, because people don’t tend to buy drugs from a total stranger if they can avoid it. Because it’s an illegal activity, they prefer to buy from a friend, a friend of a friend, or at least someone they know is from their community to avoid the purchase being a sting operation.

Mauer suggested that the choices of what police focus on in combating drug dealing could skew the numbers because monitoring drug dealing is more discretionary as to where and when you investigate than something like responding to a murder or a robbery.

He agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, which last week said it was concerned that LePage’s remarks suggested thatracial profiling was at work in Maine drug trafficking arrests. To have the racial makeup of drug trafficking arrests that LePage said his binder shows, “it would have to be racial profiling gone wild to get up to that level,” Mauer said.

‘YOU’D HAVE TO ASK THE GOVERNOR’

It’s unclear why LePage would bring up race in a discussion of drug dealing.

“I can’t read his mind,” Mauer said. “He’s made many comments over the years that are not based in fact, so I don’t know.”

Stewart-Bouley said she sees no value in raising the race issue and also said only LePage really knows why he brings it up.

“You’d have to ask the governor that question,” she said.

Peter Moskos – a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City who teaches in the department of Law and Police Science – is author of “Cop in the Hood,” a story about his experience as a police officer in Baltimore, Maryland.

Moskos replied by email to a query about LePage’s remarks.

“From a law enforcement perspective, politically incorrect reality shouldn’t be denied. From a treatment standpoint, it might matter. … In a state as white as Maine, if 90 percent of any group is black, that’s certainly eye-brow raising,” Moskos wrote.

“So I do think it’s possible, in some alternate universe, that the governor of Maine could mention this fact and then tell us why it matters – based on his targeted solution,” Moskos added.

Staff Writer Scott Thistle contributed to this report.