Police say COA students targets of possible hate crime

Posted May 21, 2010, at 10:19 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:44 a.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Police are investigating a possible hate crime against two College of the Atlantic students while their classmates are organizing a community picnic to show them support.

Because of the ongoing investigation and the sensitive nature of the incident, the Bar Harbor Police Department is releasing limited information about what happened.

Lt. James Pinkham confirmed Friday that the incident occurred at the students’ rented apartment during the day of Monday, May 10, while the students were attending classes. He said that someone broke into the apartment and drew images of swastikas and wrote ethnic slurs on items inside the dwelling.

“It is an active investigation,” Pinkham said.

Donna Gold, spokeswoman for the college, said Friday that administrators at the college are aware of the incident and have offered on-campus housing to the targeted students. She said she is not sure whether the two students have accepted the college’s offer of on-campus housing.

She said COA officials have been in contact with police about the incident and hope that they find who is responsible. The targeted students also are being counseled by the college’s student life staff, she said.

“COA is offering its full support to the students,” Gold said.

Kate Simmons, spokeswoman for the Office of the Maine Attorney General, said Friday that information about the incident has yet to be forwarded to the AG’s office because it is still under investigation by Bar Harbor police. She said the AG’s office is expected to review whatever information the police investigation turns up to determine if the incident should be prosecuted as a hate crime.

A community potluck picnic, which is scheduled from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 26, on the COA campus, is being organized by students rather than by staff, according to Gold. She said the school administration fully supports the event.

“The students themselves have decided to hold this awareness event,” she said.

Hazel Stark, a junior at COA, said she and other students at the college heard that two of their own were targeted and decided the incident needed to be addressed by the community. She said she and others in the area have had a heightened awareness of the potential for racism on Mount Desert Island since someone hung wooden effigies of black people around the island after Barack Obama was elected president.

“We don’t want to ignore the fact that this is going on,” Stark said of the racist incidents. “People are really upset.”

She said, however, the main point of the picnic is not to focus on racism. The event will be meant to emphasize the degree to which different cultures, religions and races are embraced in the MDI area.

“We want to have a celebration of our diversity,” Stark said.

A notice about the picnic that was e-mailed Friday to the Bangor Daily News by organizers indicates the event is free and open to the public. It will be held on the college’s North Lawn or, if it rains, at COA’s Gates Center.

People are encouraged to bring food, to label it for possible allergens and to bring their own plates, utensils and — if desired — musical instruments. There will be speakers and information booths at the event.

Those who plan to attend are asked to contact COA student Julia DeSantis at jdesantis@coa.edu.

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