Members of the Portland City Council and School Board gathered Thursday to emphasize that racism and bigotry have no place in Maine’s largest city, which is home to a growing immigrant population.

“We can show a little leadership, like we’re doing today, but it has to be the whole community that says the seeds of hate don’t land on fertile ground in Portland and we’re not going to tolerate it,” Councilor Jon Hinck said.

The news conference at City Hall, organized by Councilor Justin Costa, was in response to three high-profile, apparently racially motivated incidents in the city over the past few weeks and against a national backdrop of public outrage over police killings of unarmed black men.

Last month, a crowd of more than 100 protesters descended on Portland City Hall, holding a rally on the front steps and eventually taking over the Council Chambers with the chant of “black lives matter.”

Similar protests have been taking place nationwide. Most recently, protests in Baltimore descended into riots after resident Freddie Gray was injured and died while in police custody.

“We speak with one voice in denouncing these actions and denouncing this hate speech and affirming that, in our city, all are welcome, regardless of race, religion, nationality, gender identity or any other superficial characteristics,” Costa said.

Pious Ali, a school board member who is Muslim, said more community conversations about racism are needed, but the news conference was “a good first step.”

Costa said he thought it was important to get a unanimous endorsement from all of Portland’s elected leaders, including state legislators, before speaking out against the apparently racially motivated incidents here.

Three weeks ago, Portland police arrested two brothers from New Gloucester – 35-year-old Charles Bean and 30-year-old Benjamin Bean – for allegedly assaulting a black man. Police say the brothers were involved in a fight April 19 on Congress Street with an unidentified man when a crowd gathered to watch. The brothers are accused of singling out a black bystander in the crowd and allegedly yelling racial slurs as they then punched and kicked him.

The Attorney General’s Office announced April 27 that it had filed complaint against the brothers under the Maine Civil Rights Act.

Mayor Michael Brennan commended Attorney General Janet Mills for filing hate crime charges against the brothers.

“We’re here today to say not only do we not accept this kind of behavior in the city, but also to make people aware there are legal consequences that we will pursue to their fullest extent if people engage in this kind of behavior,” Brennan said.

Two weeks before the assault, someone spray-painted anti-Muslim graffiti on the wall of the Portland Halal Market on St. John Street. Police are investigating the vandalism as a hate crime, but no arrests have been made.

And in early April, someone in a car full of young white males yelled a racial slur at blogger Shay Stewart-Bouley, who is black, and her 23-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.

The incident received much attention because it was witnessed by Jackie Ward, a TV news reporter who wrote about the incident on Facebook. Ward was criticized by some for not talking to the family to see if they were all right.

City Councilor Jill Duson, who is black, said community members need to confront racism and show compassion toward those who are victimized.

“When something happens, we need to be willing to do something about it,” said Duson.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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