PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – No law enforcement statistics even come close to backing up Republican Gov. Paul LePage's assertion that blacks and Hispanics account for "90-plus percent" of heroin-trafficking arrests in Maine.
LePage, who previously told the Portland NAACP chapter to "kiss my butt" and blamed out-of-state drug dealers for impregnating "young white" girls, sparked another racial uproar when he said Aug. 24 that data he'd collected indicates out-of-state black and Hispanics accounted for "90-plus percent" of heroin-trafficking arrests in Maine.
FBI data contradict his assertion, and a criminologist called the governor's data "laughable." Meanwhile, members of the African-American community in Maine, the whitest state, fear his comments strengthen racial stereotypes and tacitly approve of racial profiling.
"I think this fear-mongering, and these us-against-them kind of statements, do not advance the community conversation, do not address the real issue of drug abuse," said the Rev. Kenneth I. Lewis Jr., pastor at the Green Memorial A.M.E. Church, Maine's oldest African-American congregation, in Portland.
The Maine Department of Public Safety doesn't include race when compiling and analyzing crime data. And the most recent crime data from the FBI suggest the governor's claim doesn't pass muster.
The FBI data show that blacks accounted for 14 percent of a total of 1,211 drug sale and manufacturing arrests and 7.4 percent of 5,791 total drug arrests in Maine in 2014, the most recent numbers available.
Broken down by type of offense, the data showed that blacks accounted for 35.5 percent of arrests for selling opium-derived drugs including heroin, morphine and cocaine, and 26 percent when synthetic narcotics including most prescription narcotics were included in the tally. The FBI doesn't include a category for Hispanics in its statistics.
Far from "90-plus percent," the FBI figures could reflect even higher numbers of black offenders than reality because of small sample size, racial profiling and other factors, said Jack McDevitt, director of Northeastern University's Institute on Race and Justice in Boston.
At a town meeting, LePage made these comments:
"Let me tell you this, explain to you, I made the comment that black people are trafficking in our state. Now, ever since I said that comment, I've been collecting every single drug dealer who has been arrested in our state. I don't ask them to come to Maine and sell their poison, but they come, and I will tell you that 90-plus percent of those pictures in my book, and it's a three-ringed binder, are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Connecticut, the Bronx and Brooklyn."
LePage said the contents of the binder are news clippings, not scientific data, that he began collecting in January after being criticized for saying out-of-state drug dealers were impregnating "young white" girls.
Gia Barboza, a professor at Northeastern's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, described the governor's "90-plus percent" figure as "laughable" and "completely inaccurate."
Media organizations including The Associated Press have requested that his office turn over a copy of the binder's contents, but it has yet to do so. LePage, who has said he's no longer speaking to reporters, did not respond to request by the AP to clarify or defend his comments.
The controversy over LePage's remarks exploded when he left an obscenity-laden tirade the next day on the voicemail of a Democratic lawmaker he thought called him a racist. LePage eventually apologized to the lawmaker but never for the remarks about race. In fact, he has repeated similar assertions several times.
In later explaining himself, LePage described Maine's problem of opioid addiction that resulted in a record 272 overdose deaths last year in terms of war, saying it's important to identify the enemy and then to attack the enemy.
"Look, the bad guy is the bad guy, I don't care what color he is," LePage told reporters two days after the town meeting. "When you go to war, if you know the enemy and the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, then you shoot at red."
Lewis said he believes LePage doesn't understand the weight of his remarks in Maine.
"That kind of comment is not a tacit approval of racial profiling. It's the stamped approval — 'Let's do this.' 'This is the enemy.' I don't think I'm the enemy, and I don't think people who look like me are the enemy. The 'enemy' comes in every shade," Lewis said.