Recently our U.S. Attorney for Maine, Halsey B. Frank, wrote an op-ed headlined “Law enforcement here paying price for brutality elsewhere” (Aug. 7). Implicit in the op-ed is that he is writing about Black Lives Matter’s response to police brutality against Black Americans.

Mr. Frank is wrong. Speak to the young Black American who, upon walking into his own apartment building, was, without provocation, shoved by a Portland Police officer four times, threatened with a stun gun to the face and then tackled from behind and punched, struck with batons and beaten by four officers when he started to videotape the events with his phone. He was then charged with multiple crimes. He was found not guilty at trial. The assault was videotaped by bystanders. Speak to the Somali mother of five who was placed in a chokehold and hogtied because she wanted to find out where and why Portland Police had taken her 16-year-old daughter. What about the 13-year-old boy in Bangor who was arrested for smoking a cigarette? His arm was broken when he was gang-tackled by police. It was videotaped by bystanders. The list goes on and on.

Nor is police brutality limited to acts of violence. The use of over-policing and control through intimidation and fear is every bit as brutal as beatings and broken bones. In Portland, community policing centers are placed only in public housing areas where Black Americans and immigrants live. Over-policing has occurred for years in those communities. The impact of over-policing is that as recently as 2017, according to Portland’s own statistics, Black Americans accounted for 23 percent of arrests in Portland, although they made up 7 percent of the population, and were subjected to 26.1 percent of reported instances of use of excessive force. Twelve percent of Maine’s prison population is Black American, while Black Americans make up only 1 percent of the total population. Black Americans are sentenced more harshly in Maine than their white counterparts, accounting for 21 percent of Class A drug felony arrests. We know that white Americans engage in criminal drug conduct at the same proportionate rate as Black Americans, yet Black Americans are 21 times more likely to get charged for the same conduct than white Americans in Maine.

I love Maine and I love Mainers. I too believe that the majority of law enforcement officers are, in Mr. Frank’s words, “decent, hardworking people trying to do a difficult, and at times dangerous, job.” But the system itself doesn’t favor decency and compassion. It is militaristic and impersonal. Racism is another distinct component. I don’t mean overt, in-your-face racism, I mean the kind of racism that led the police chief in a local community to declare that “every life matters” in response to the BLM protests in Portland, only to then state that she didn’t understand the implication of that statement and was anxious to be educated.

As a friend of mine would say, all lives matter when Black lives matter. The blame lies not only with law enforcement – they are the troops on the ground. The blame lies with the higher-ups. The blame lies with prosecutors, judges and political actors. The blame lies with all of us who have turned a blind eye or worse. This is a time for us to look racism in the “justice system” in the eye, not a time for platitudes.


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