Gov. Janet Mills and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court are pledging to root out racism in Maine’s criminal justice system.

On the heels of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, both have announced plans to better understand and identify racism in all its forms and provide advanced training to law enforcement and court officers in Maine.

“Like those who have taken to the streets of cities and towns across Maine and America, I too am angered by the death of George Floyd,” Mills said in a statement provided to the Press Herald Tuesday. “Our state, like many, still struggles with disparities and inequities among our citizens.”

Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, and Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, Maine’s only black legislators, declined to comment on the statements from Mills and the state’s highest court.

Both Talbot Ross and Hickman have been active in fighting racism in Maine law enforcement, courts and jails. Neither was aware of the statements issued by Mills or the court before being contacted by the Press Herald. Hickman said he would need time to review the statements before responding.

Mills said she was “horrified” by the video of an officer pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck and noted that Black and African American Mainers account for a higher percentage of those who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“Maine, with our own painful history of racism dating back generations, is not immune to discrimination, injustice or inequality,” Mills said.

To address those inequities, Mills said, she has asked Public Safety Commissioner Mike Sauschuck to review Maine’s law enforcement statutes and policies, including those related to racial profiling and anti-bias training, and provide recommendations on how they can be strengthened in conjunction with the Legislature.

Mills said she hopes the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial and Ethnic Populations, which includes two members appointed by the governor, “will help us more fully understand the disparities that exist and how we might begin to address them in the coming months.”

Talbot Ross was the chief sponsor of the bill that created the commission. Hickman was the chief sponsor of legislation that prohibits and requires special training to prevent police profiling based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other biases. Mills signed both bills into law last year.

“I do not have all the answers to what is a deep, complicated issue pervasive in American society, and there is certainly more for us all to learn about the challenges faced by people of color in our state,” Mills said in her written statement. “But I am committed both as governor and as someone who cares deeply about the people of Maine, to defending the lives, integrity and equality of all our citizens.”

In a separate statement dated June 8 and released Wednesday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court said “courts have a direct and fundamental responsibility to dispense justice without any hint or even appearance of racism or other bias in all of their insidious forms.”

The seven-member court referred to recent “horrific deaths” of African-Americans in Minneapolis, Louisville and Atlanta that “have driven home a stark and heartbreaking reminder to all Americans that racism continues to be a pervasive blight upon our constitutional republic and the world at large.”

To learn what needs to be fixed, the state’s highest court has “begun to reach out to people and resources that can help us better understand, identify and address racism in all its forms and its insidious effects upon attitudes and behavior.”

In addition to providing further training for judicial officers and other court staff, the state’s court system will work toward integrating additional measures to prevent racism and other forms of discrimination from affecting the justice process.

“Freedom from disparate treatment based upon race is not only a constitutional right, it is a basic human right,” the court said.


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