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Racist And Racially Insensitive Social Media Posts Roil Penobscot County Town Of Lincoln

The town of Lincoln has been roiled by a number of racially insensitive or racist social media posts made by town and school officials and a local policeman in the last few days. Tony Hallett, a reporter for The Lincoln News, has been following the issue. Hallett talked with Maine Public's Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz about the posts and how the town is being affected by them.Gratz:  First of all, can you describe for us who's involved in this and what have been in some of these social media posts?

Hallett:  Specifically, we had a town councilor who is also a state representative, Sheldon Hanington, we have the chairman of our RSU 67 School Board, William Davis, and then two Lincoln police officers, Andrew Scelso and Linwood Severance - both made racist posts on social media. In the case of William Davis, one of the things he did was share an article from The Federalist that said the problem in minority or black communities wasn't racism, but fatherlessness. He also posted his support of the All Lives Matter movement, and he also posted a meme that essentially said that if people that were protesting, if they'd stopped to think, if they did nothing wrong, then there wouldn't be a problem with the police. Sheldon Hanington posted a confederate flag, encouraging people to stand up for their heritage. That's not his [heritage] because he's not from the south. And then Linwood Severance used negative racial stereotypes in a post reacting to a shooting in Chicago. And Andrews also said he did not believe in white privilege, and made a comment about statistics - 97% of crimes committed are by minorities.

What's been the response to this among members of the public?

It has been mixed. Dan Summers, the public safety director of the police department, is revamping the department's policy in regards to how it handles racism, the disciplinary action involved in racism, as well as how it is investigates such allegations and stuff like that. We had a very long conversation before this article ran, how where they're even talking about changes to the interview process, as well as just the department policies in general, to ensure that not only do they try to prevent people with such narrow opinions or negative opinions from joining, but once they are on the force, what can be done about it. The Town Council - and the town itself - has been silent. Hannington apologized for people being upset by his post, but not for posting it. And then the school board - the school RSU 67, issued a statement - you know, they believe in racial equality and couldn't stand for inequality. And there is a school board meeting Thursday that is rumored to be interesting, where they'll talk about what the response is going to be to the chair.

So has there been any kind of official disciplining of anybody involved yet?
 
The two police officers were both disciplined, from what I understand. The issue there was there was no set policy for investigating racism so they could only respond, according to Chief Dan Summers, to the comments per their social media policy.

Talk a little bit more about what you see going on in the town. What is this saying about the culture? Is it prompting more discussion? Is it hardening opinions?

I would say it's been divisive. There's been a lot of people coming out with with very narrow world views, very negative views, very racist views on social media. But I have personally gotten a lot of support from people saying that this has been a long time coming, that there is an issue here in Lincoln, and something needs to be done about it. The problem, I think, in general is northern Maine is very socially isolated, especially in this area. That doesn't stop people from forming opinions on experiences that they simply do not have or do not understand.

Yeah, you know, it's interesting when you talk about being socially isolated. Was there any kind of public reaction after George Floyd's death?

There - on social media - was a lot of insensitive posts. But as far as public reaction, no.

Any idea where this is going next?

More education - as far as public officials, a little bit more sensitivity. Like I said, Dan Summers has promised or made a statement that he is absolutely going to look at the department's policies, where Lincoln is looking to grow both economically and bring more outside investors and stuff like that, how we need to be sensitive to other cultures. The school board - we'll see what happens Thursday. The town, I don't see that there's really been any movement there at all.

Tony Hallett is a reporter for The Lincoln News. He has been writing about recent racially insensitive - if not actually racist - social media posts from town officials. Tony, again, thank you for the time. We appreciate it.

Thank you for having me on.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Correction: An earlier version of this post referred to Tony Hallett as "Tony Howard." We apologize for the error.