Last January Governor Paul LePage created a firestorm of controversy when he talked about black drug dealers coming to Maine to sell their product, and impregnating white girls. At another of his his town meetings, this one in North Berwick Wednesday night, LePage claimed that more than 90% of drug dealers arrested since last January are black or Hispanic.
At the meeting, the Governor once again defended himself against allegations that he’s racist.
At Wednesday’s event, New York businessman. Andrew Ritchie, who says he used to live in Maine, asked LePage how he could convince a business to come here.
“Given the rhetoric you put out there about people, ah, of color in Maine, calling them drug dealers et cetera, how can I bring a company here given the toxic environment you create?”
The Governor responded by bringing up the controversy he generated last January at a town meeting in Bridgeton where he said most drug dealers arrested in Maine are black and come from out of state, adding that many of them impregnate white girls while they’re here. LePage says that since then he has been keeping a file of information on drug arrests in Maine.
“Ninety plus percent of those pictures in my book, and it is a three ring binder, are black or Hispanic people.”
LePage repeated his belief that the dealers are mostly from Connecticut and New York. He invited Ritchie to come to the State House and look at the binder. When Maine Public Radio asked to see the binder, we were told to file a formal request under the state’s public records law. The administration has not responded to that request.
There is no central repository of drug arrests in the state that keeps track of the ethnicity of suspects. But in Lewiston, with a large minority population, interim Police Chief Brian O’Malley says that over the past three years there were 137 drug arrests of all types – involving mostly white people.
“Out of our 137 drug arrests, 109 were white individuals, 27 were black individuals and one was identified as American Indian,” says O’Malley.
LePage told the 50 or so attending the North Berwick town meeting that he is not a racist and reminded them of the young black man from Jamaica he welcomed into his family and treated as a son.
“The fact of the matter is sir I am not a racist and don’t promote it,” LePage says.
Ritchie interjected that he had not called LePage a racist.
“No,” LePage responded. “You are insinuating and somebody in the back of the room was saying, was making insinuations.”
The Governor went on to say that he does not condone, nor tolerate racist acts: “If I see discrimination, If I see bullying, if I see domestic violence, I don’t care if you are white, black, it doesn’t make any difference, you will hear me speak out.”
But House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, who has been a fierce political adversary of LePage, issued a statement calling the Governor’s comments “racially charged” and divisive.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine says if the Governor’s figures are correct, and more than 90 percent of drug dealer arrests involve blacks and Hispanics, then Maine police may be engaging in racial profiling.
Alison Beyea is the group’s executive director and says in a state that is overwhelmingly white, demographics would indicate most of the drug dealers should be white.
“This kind of overwhelming disparity suggests some sort of racial profiling that is illegal and unconstitutional,” says Beyea.
Beyea says the group would like to work with the Governor and his administration to address that issue, and she says the Governor’s several comments with racial overtones over this past year raise another question that concerns her.
“Why is the Governor inserting race in this conversation at all? We are facing a significant addiction problem in the state of Maine,” says Beyea. “Under the Governor’s leadership we should be looking for ways to come together to solve this crisis not infusing racial hatred that divides the community.”
The Governor declined a request for an interview with Maine Public Radio to discuss his comments. But, he did grant an audience with two reporters that had confronted him on his way to lunch. According to the Portland Press Herald account of the interview at the Blaine House, he stood by his comments, adding that regardless of the ethnicity of the dealers, his goal is to stop the drug trade that is killing Maine people.