In the last week, America and Maine experienced seismic changes, from Trump calling out the military to crack down on peaceful protesters to demonstrators demanding a change in the centuries-old practice of how black and brown individuals are policed. I turned to the June 5, 2020, issue of the Southern Forecaster eager to see how the profound changes were reflected in southern Maine, but there was little to be found.

Opinion writers wrote about how they missed baseball and praised police for forming a “blue line” to protect people and property. Yes, there was terrible property and personal damage by a small percentage of protesters, but that “blue line” does not protect everyone, not even in Maine.

It’s difficult for Maine’s news organizations that are primarily staffed by white reporters and editors to delve into the state’s own racism and discriminatory police practices, but scratch the surface and it’s there. Less than 2% of Maine’s population is African American, yet they account for 21% of Class A drug arrests and 15% of Class B drug arrests between 2017-2019, according to a Dec. 11, 2019, report by the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments.

That same report found that 43% of white people sentenced to prison in Maine had zero or one prior conviction. In contrast, 59% of blacks and 62% of Native Americans with up to one prior conviction were imprisoned. Why the high numbers? Racial profiling by police and selective prosecution lead to higher arrest numbers. Maine is not an anomaly, this happens across the country and is why people are protesting.

On a recent Maine Calling show on Maine Public Radio, a white woman married to an African American talked about getting pulled over in Maine and having her husband forced out of the car, asked why he was in Maine and required to show his license, even though she was the speeding driver. And it’s happened more than once to them.

News media in Maine can’t take a pass on covering racist police behavior because they’re white. Silence is an indictment. Take a look at the summons and arrest records in the southern Maine suburbs you cover, what percentage of people summonsed or arrested were people of color? Compare it to the racial composition of the community. Discover what role racial profiling plays in who gets a summons for an expired inspection sticker. If that data isn’t easily available, look at the names of people arrested, can you guess at their ethnicity?

Talk to police about their training and ingrained views. Talk to people of color who live in those communities. What do they experience when driving while black or brown?

There are stories to be told, awareness to be raised and community education required. This is not just a Portland or Minneapolis issue, it’s the story of every town in Maine.

Christine Kukka is a former news reporter who covered Maine for many years and currently writes about health policy.

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