A crowd of several hundred turned out for a vigil against hate in Lewiston’s Kennedy Park on Sunday. Speakers included Gov. Janet Mills, the mayors of Lewiston and Portland, Muslim city councilors and faith leaders from the Muslim and Jewish communities.
They condemned the terror attack on the mosques in New Zealand late last week that killed 50 people and left dozens more injured. They also urged non-Muslims to stand up against white supremacy and Islamophobia.
Dequa Dhalac, the first African-American and Muslim member of South Portland’s City Council, said, “Racism, hatred and white supremacy is a global terrorist threat and it should be called for what it is and we need to end it.”
This past week, the Maine Republican Party’s vice chairman, Nick Isgro, came under fire from state Senate Republicans and others for blaming immigrants for a series of infectious disease outbreaks that health officials said are the result of fewer Americans getting vaccinated.
Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, who is running for re-election this year, said he was reminded on St. Patrick’s Day that the same kind of erroneous claims were made about the Irish in 1850 when they arrived and were greeted by signs that said, “No Irish Allowed.”
“But we know better in the state of Maine about the importance of diversity and immigration,” Strimling said. “Probably what I am most proud of in this work is how we do stand up to say that we will not tolerate intolerance every time it occurs.”
Strimling noted that 15 years ago when the Ku Klux Klan distributed leaflets in Lewiston, then-Gov. John Baldacci joined more than 1,000 other people in a rally to say that intolerance will not be tolerated. And when candidate Donald Trump came to Portland on a campaign stop and claimed that Somalis were committing crimes, Strimling said 500 people turned out at City Hall the following day.
Then, when Trump banned travelers from several Muslim-majority nations from coming to the U.S., Strimling said 1,000 people stood together at the Portland International Jetport.
“That is what Maine is all about,” Strimling said. “Every time this happens, we stand together … I hope that someday we don’t have to do this anymore, but unfortunately, hatred runs deep and we must confront it with love and resistance.”
Among the victims of the mass shootings in New Zealand were foreigners, several high school students and children, including a 4-year-old boy. Eight-year-old Amina Beshir of Auburn closed out the Sunday vigil in Kennedy Park with her hope for the future.
“Yes, I’m black, I’m Muslim and I’m American,” she said. “And I want to see the world in peace, where we don’t attack people. I don’t ever want to see what happened at the mosque happen again. Even if I’m a kid, it doesn’t mean I can’t change the world, and I hope you can, too.”
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.