After a summer filled with local and national protests against racism and police violence, Bangor officials are considering a few different initiatives aimed at addressing racial and other inequities in the city while also building trust with the local police.
The City Council soon will vote on whether to create a new advisory committee for diversity, equity and inclusion, after giving preliminary approval to it earlier this week and after it was authorized by the city’s school committee last week.
The city also has hired a local organization to provide its staff with training on racial sensitivity, and councilors are scheduled to consider a separate proposal to equip local police with body cameras early in October.
The City Council will cast a final vote on the new committee at the end of this month.
The group would have about nine regular members and a few additional non-voting members. The seats would specifically be reserved for people from various groups, including the Penobscot Nation, the NAACP, the LGBTQ community, faith-based groups, the Maine Multicultural Center, the business community and a health care or educational institution.
The city would refer new proposals in areas such as housing and education to that committee so its members could provide feedback early on about how the proposals would affect people from different racial and social backgrounds, according to City Council Chairperson Clare Davitt.
The volunteer group also would serve as a resource for people who have concerns about how equitably they’ve been treated based on their backgrounds, but Davitt said it would not have the same legal authority as the Maine Human Rights Commission. Rather, its members might be able to direct people to that commission or another organization that can help them.
Some other Maine communities are making similar efforts. South Portland just agreed to create two committees to address concerns around systemic racism and effective policing, according to the Portland Press Herald.
In Bangor, city and school officials have been considering this and other proposals throughout the summer after several Black students spoke publicly last June about the racism they’ve faced in Bangor’s public schools. The national protests against racial injustice and police violence that followed the videotaped killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers has added fuel to the city’s efforts.
Bangor municipal staff recently have been getting racial sensitivity training from the local organization Racial Equity and Justice, according to Davitt, and the Bangor School Department has been offering similar training to its students. The school committee doubled down on those lessons last week after a teacher’s lesson on race and privilege received backlash from a pro-Trump Facebook group, where a parent had shared it.
In addition, the City Council will soon decide whether to equip city police officers with body cameras at an estimated cost of $125,000 per year for the first three years. That program would require the creation of a new IT position in the city’s police and fire departments.
The council has considered starting such a program for a few years now, with the goal of building trust between the officers who would use the cameras and the residents of the city. That proposal received a swell of new attention early in the summer amid the national protests against racial injustice and police violence, some of which happened around Maine.
Bangor councilors are scheduled to revisit the body camera proposal in early October.