Friday, December 28, 2007

Maine: The Whitest State May Stay That Way

I frequently fall into the trap of assuming that red states are bastions of intolerance while blue states are a liberal oasis. Of course, that is a messy and inaccurate assumption based on broad generalizations. Take Maine for instance: Less than 1% of Maine's population is black, and that's apparently too many for some.
In October, the N.A.A.C.P. chapter for northern Maine got shocking news. A man from a nearby town had threatened to shoot “any and all black persons” attending the group’s meetings at an old stone church here, and state prosecutors were worried enough to seek a restraining order.
“It’s discouraging and it’s heart-wrenching,” said Joseph Perry, president of the chapter, which has 175 members from Augusta to the Canadian border. “There are still people who aren’t comfortable, who don’t feel safe.”

The man who made the threat was Kendrick Sawyer, 75, whose doctor at a veterans hospital in Augusta reported it to the police. Mr. Sawyer also said that Maine “should be a ‘white’ state,” according to court documents, and that he owned a .45-caliber handgun. No criminal charges have been filed, but law enforcement officers removed the gun from Mr. Sawyer’s home in Brewer, across a river from Bangor, and the Maine attorney general’s office filed a civil complaint against him.

Unfortunately, racism in Maine isn't limited to this single crackpot. The assistant attorney general for civil rights education and enforcement said his office gets between 250 and 300 bias incidents reported each year. Some of these are outrageously savage.
Many come from Lewiston, where more than 3,000 Somali immigrants have settled in recent years. In July 2006, a group of Somalis were worshiping in a storefront mosque there when a white man rolled the head of a pig, an animal considered unclean in Islam, across the floor. And last month, a Somali student at Lewiston High School said, a white man threw sand and dirt in his face as he ran at a cross-country meet.

Last year, a white man shouted racial slurs at a pregnant black woman in Hancock, near Bangor, and kicked her in the abdomen, according to Mr. Harnett’s office. And in March, Assata Sherrill, a black resident of Bangor, told the police that three white boys had thrown stones and shouted racial epithets at her as she walked her dog near the city’s waterfront.

I would venture to guess the white man who kicked the pregnant black woman in the abdomen would consider himself a pro-lifer, as long as the life worth saving happens to be white.

And not to suggest that any of these incidents are worse than the other, but Jesus Christ! Making life more miserable for Somali immigrants who came to these shores for safety is sinking to the lowest depths of depravity. Not surprisingly, many blacks in Maine (what few there are) want to escape.
Ms. Sherrill — who lives here with her teenage daughter, a high school senior who “hates every minute of it” and wants to attend historically black Spelman College in Atlanta — says she moved to Maine from Detroit in search of tranquillity. After the attack on her, she organized a series of community forums to discuss race issues in Maine. This month she held an alternative Kwanzaa celebration after Mr. Sawyer’s threat led the N.A.A.C.P. to cancel its larger version.

“I’m not about to stop living and holding celebrations because somebody else is sick,” Ms. Sherrill said. “As long as your skin is black and you live in the United States of America, you are going to be confronted.”

Here we are in the 21st century and, if your skin is black, tranquility is elusive.

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