FALMOUTH — Although Black residents make up only .1% of the town’s population, over 4% of arrests made in Falmouth in the most recent three-year period available involved Blacks, a disparity the Town Council says it will work to  address.

About 20 residents called for a ban on no-knock warrant and chokeholds at a virtual July 8 workshop and locals and councilors also discussed the role of School Resource Officers.

“The council will be taking this up, and broader issues around racial equity this summer, and will report to the community at a future meeting,” Council Chairwoman Amy Kuhn said. “This is the first of several conversations.”

Data provided by Police Chief John Kilbride showed from 2016-2019, 4.5% (20) of all the 448 people arrested were Black; the .1% population of Blacks in Falmouth represents about 12 of 12,200 residents. None of those arrested were residents.

It also showed that Blacks were involved in 3.6% of all traffic stops, and 10% of the 26 instances where force was used since 2016  involved Black people.

Force, Kilbride said, ranges from threatening to use things like tasers and guns, to the actual deployment of restraints.

“It’s important to keep in mind those disparities and look at how to mitigate that in the future,” Susan Stark, a local resident, said.

Kilbride cautioned that while the data shows a disparity, there is a lot of data the department doesn’t have, including how many Black people pass through town and how many work in Falmouth but live elsewhere.

Joseph Jackson of Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition (MPAC) and Maine Inside Out, a nonprofit that uses art to help current and former prisoners, agreed more data is needed to really take an in-depth look into racism in the community, but said the numbers are a good start, and still indicate that Black people who pass through town are targeted more than white people.

“There is a structural component in the way we police, where Black people and drivers are being singled out at a greater rate,” Jackson said. “When we look at deviance in sociology and the people with propensity to commit deviant crimes, the statistical portion is static. Whether it’s white or Black, so why aren’t we seeing more numbers in (other demographics)?”

“It’s not that an officer says ‘I am going to get a black person today,’ but that there is something structural that produces that outcome that I see all around this area, in all the communities I work in,” Jackson said.

At the workshop, residents also discussed school resource officers, with some calling to dismantle the program. Falmouth added its second resource officer in 2018 in response to school shootings across the nation.

SRO’s in Falmouth are tasked with handling criminal activity, protecting students from outside threats of violence, but advocates like Jackson also see them dealing with students who are having issues related to mental health.

Early interactions with police when a student is having a crisis, Jackson said, could leave more trauma and worsen relations with police.

“I worry about how SROs support school to prison pipeline in our nation, and if our  success will be used to further this program in other schools and cause further harm in other communities,” resident Zachary Bull said, using “success” sarcastically. 

Jackson, a former prison inmate himself, began his work advocating for prison reform seven years ago

His prison advocacy work, which extends around Southern Maine, also addresses systemic racism in schools and the “school to prison pipeline,” which he says is tied to systemic racism and socio-economics, which is a community issue as much as a police issue.

The pipeline, Jackson said, is the idea that certain types of discipline and attitudes towards students perceived to cause trouble, especially through racial bias, reinforces negative behaviors that may end up landing that student in jail, creating a lifelong pattern of trouble. Advocates, including Jackson, believe that SROs worsen the issue.

“Many young people I work with heard (teachers say) ‘He’s going to jail,’ as young as elementary school, they begin identifying them then,” Jackson said. “In my experience, when that occurred (for white students) resources went to that kid, they didn’t send an SRO. The police have become the catch-all. He’s not just handling criminal activity, but mental health activity too, and when a child has been in trauma.”

Jackson said schools need to provide tools to deal with the mental health and trauma related issues, not expand the police presence.

“A lot of these instances are detrimental where SROs and students connectLet’s face it, our system doesn’t have a light hand – especially our criminal justice system – it touches people with heavy hands that have lifelong impacts,” Jackson said. 

Residents also called for a ban on no-knock warrants and chokeholds in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Falmouth has no knock warrants and (choke holds), despite how these have been used to harm black people in our nation, I do not believe these should be legal in Falmouth,” Bull said.

The Council took no action, but said they will take residents’ input into consideration and work on solutions at a retreat this the summer.

Solutions may include policy changes, more workshops and training for police.

Identifying these problems and possible solutions are a good place to start, Jackson said, but ultimately, change has to come from the community as a whole.

“What can aid (the disparity) the most is to make sure that our town council and town structures have diversity,” Jackson said. “I really feel like it’s hard to address systemic issues when everyone making the decisions and has the power is white. These are some things we have to look at. If you look at those positions of power, it’s hard to govern and make decisions about things when the people whom you are trying to help are not included in that.”

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