Reports of racial harassment spread

Posted Nov. 10, 2008, at 10:40 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:16 a.m.

Since Sen. Barack Obama won last week’s presidential election, there have been at least five incidents of alleged racial threats or confrontations in Maine that are being investigated by authorities.

Whether or not criminal charges result from the investigations, the state possibly could pursue civil charges against the people responsible, according to a prosecutor with the state Attorney General’s Office.

“There’s no doubt this has been a sad week,” Thom Harnett, assistant attorney general for civil rights education and enforcement, said Monday. “I’ve always believed this [kind of alleged racial discrimination] is limited to a small percentage of [Maine’s] population.”

The most recent incident reported by police Monday occurred around 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5 in East Machias. According to Trooper Greg Burns of the Maine State Police, a 19-year-old Jamaican exchange student was walking along High Street toward some academy dormitories when he heard the sound of a pickup truck approaching from behind.

The student told school officials that he heard the driver rev the truck’s engine and that he believes the truck swerved at him. The student also said the driver called him “Obama,” but he has been unable to provide police with a description of the driver or the vehicle, Burns said.

“He didn’t get a good look at [the truck],” Burns said. “There aren’t a lot of streetlights there.”

Burns said there are no suspects so far in the case.

On Mount Desert Island, media reports late last week indicated that two black effigies were hung in Bar Harbor and in Tremont in the hours immediately after Obama was elected president. On Monday, a police officer in the town of Mount Desert indicated he was investigating a third similar incident in the village of Somesville.

On Sunday, about 100 people attended a rally in Bar Harbor to oppose the apparent acts of racism.

Officer Leigh Guildford said Monday that a black-painted figure was found the morning of Nov. 5 dangling from a tree at the intersection of Ripples and Pretty Marsh roads. A woman who found it while on her way to work disposed of the effigy before reporting it to police, according to Guildford. He declined to describe the figure other than to say it is similar to those that were found in Bar Harbor and Tremont.

“It was human shape and painted black,” Guildford said of the figure found in Somesville. “There’s no question what its intention was.”

Trooper Cliff Peterson with Maine State Police said Monday that the Tremont effigy was found around 12:30 a.m. Nov. 5 on Route 102 in the village of Seal Cove. It was cut down by the Tremont Fire Department, he said.

Peterson said he is cooperating with the Bar Harbor and Mount Desert police departments but that they have no suspects at this time.

Anyone with information about the incidents on Mount Desert Island or in East Machias can call police at 800-432-7381.

“They can remain anonymous if they like,” Trooper Burns said.

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