Tanisha Mckenzie leads protesters in a chant on Saturday. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Brunswick town councilors have approved a statement condemning the recent police killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, taking a stance against racism in Brunswick and beyond, but acknowledged that simply condemning the killings “is not enough.” 

“As public servants, we have an even greater responsibility to speak out against racism, discrimination, bias and hatred because when the unacceptable becomes the norm in our society, human rights for all are threatened,” reads the statement, drafted by Council Chairman John Perreault, and Jim Mason, vice chairman. “We must commit ourselves to working on ways in which we can engage our communities to address and uproot institutionalized racism and implicit bias and offer spaces for dialogue, trainings and understanding.”

With the statement, the council also voiced support for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as five statewide and local policy recommendations: police departments must treat all allegations of officer misconduct seriously and with accountability and transparency; the state should maintain a public database of complaints against officers; police departments should terminate officers with a history of excessive force and racial insensitivity; the state must mandate training and continuing education surrounding racism, implicit bias and use of force; and every police officer in Maine should be required to wear a body camera that cannot be turned off at the officer’s discretion. 

These changes, according to the statement, represent “the bare minimum of what is required to maintain the public’s trust in law enforcement.” 

But not everyone was on board with everything in the statement. Councilors Kathy Wilson and Dave Watson voted against it.

Watson said he thought taking a stand was “a first step and a really good step,” but had concerns that a public database for complaints against police officers would violate privacy and potentially have legal ramifications as it relates to personnel matters. He also suggested that any future movement include representation from the legislature and the governor’s office. 

Wilson supported the idea as a whole but felt the wording was too specific — the town should take a stand against discrimination in all forms without singling out racism, she argued, suggesting the council take a few days to fine-tune the wording. 

Others felt time was of the essence. 

“I’m a little disappointed we’re hesitating making this decision tonight,” Councilor Steve Walker said. “Leadership is supposed to lead,” and the community, after three protests and dozens of emails, is asking where the council stands, he said. 

Councilor Dan Ankeles agreed. 

“This is the leaders of the town saying how we feel about something really awful that’s been happening,” he said. “I’m worried we’re really missing the moment.”

Ultimately, Wilson cast her vote “with a totally broken heart, because never in my life did I think I’d vote against.” 

Councilor Christopher Watkinson expressed some reservations that the statement sounded like an indictment of the Brunswick Police Department, despite the councilors’ agreement that the town has an “excellent” police force. He also was hesitant to blanketly support Black Lives Matter as an organization without knowing more about its mission statement and codes, but was in favor of the message behind the statement and ended up voting in favor. 

Councilors hope to form a task force in the coming weeks to further discuss possible action, but plan to wait until incoming Police Chief Scott Stewart is settled. 

The council’s statement comes just days after a third protest in Brunswick, the latest in a nationwide movement sparked by outrage over the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minnesota last month. Former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, despite Floyd’s cries that he could not breathe. The video of Floyd’s death, coupled with heightened tensions over the recent deaths of Taylor and Arbery, among others, ignited protests calling for an end to police brutality and racism. 

The protests have “shone a light on systemic racism and the current and historically disparate treatment of African Americans and people of color in our country,” the council said. “Hate will not be tolerated here in Brunswick and we will stand together to fight any form of bigotry, discrimination, or hate, in speech or action, against any group, from whatever the source.”

The Brunswick School Department also issued a statement last week drafted by Superintendent Paul Perzanoski and incoming superintendent Phillip Potenziano, who wrote “with a heavy heart and controlled anger” to confirm their commitment “to the values of equity, diversion and inclusion.” 

Floyd’s death was a “senseless loss that brings to the surface again that our ability to respect and protect all American citizens needs our focused and undying attention,” they wrote. “We should not rest in our quest to accomplish this work …” and will be working in the coming weeks and months to “reflect and seek input upon the ways in which we can further advance our efforts to turn these values into action. … We cannot remain neutral in a time of injustice.” 

In Lewiston, the city council is considering a similar, if more localized resolution that condemns the use of excessive force by police and commits Lewiston to “achieving equality and equal justice for all in its policing practices, policies and tactics,” the Sun Journal reported. 

Councilor Safiya Khalid’s resolution “affirms and acknowledges that Black Lives Matter,” commits the city to conduct anti-bias training for staff and police personnel, and commits the Police Department to expand efforts to recruit and hire individuals from minority communities, among other goals.

Across the state, organizations including L.L. Bean and the Beach to Beacon road race in Cape Elizabeth have also condemned racism and police brutality while promising to look at their own practices.

“Members of our community have raised their voices and it is time for our law enforcement agencies and our state leaders to join us in efforts to end the excessive use of force, racial insensitivity and police misconduct here in Maine,” The statement from the Brunswick council reads. “The excessive force, violence, and unequal treatment must end. … Black lives matter to the town of Brunswick.”

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