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We’re always on the lookout for opportunities to highlight the kindness of Maine people, and to amplify the many ways Mainers take care of each other in communities across the state. That is the Maine we want to live in, and what the state as a whole should continue striving toward.
However, it is not always who we are. The recently released hate crime data from the FBI make that unfortunate fact very clear.
Reported hate crimes in Maine quadrupled from 2019 to 2020. There were 19 of these incidents reported in 2019. That number spiked to 83 in 2020, a total that is greater than the previous three years combined.
Of those 2020 reported incidents, 32 involved anti-Black or anti-African American bias, 29 involved anti-LGBTQ bias, five reported crimes against Jewish people, and another three involved anti-Asian bias.
Maine is far from an outlier in this troubling increase in hateful incidents. Nationally, hate crimes increased by 6 percent in 2020 with a total of 7,759. Some advocates say that number is likely an undercount of the actual total of hate crimes, as many go unreported.
The FBI and U.S. Department of Justice have been encouraging the public to report hate crimes, and working to improve how the federal government helps local, state and tribal law enforcement handle hate crimes — including identifying them, tracking them and addressing them.
“Our commitment to investigating and prosecuting hate crimes is deeply rooted in the department’s founding,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement about the 2020 hate crime statistics. “At my direction, the department has rededicated itself to combatting unlawful acts of hate, including by improving incident reporting, increasing law enforcement training and coordination at all levels of government, prioritizing community outreach and making better use of civil enforcement mechanisms. All of these steps share common objectives: deterring hate crimes and bias-related incidents, addressing them when they occur, supporting those victimized by them and reducing the pernicious effects these incidents have on our society.”
These new hate crime numbers help connect the disturbing dots we’ve seen in terms of individual hateful incidents, including here in Bangor and elsewhere in the state. In June 2020, teenagers allegedly spray painted a swastika in front of Bangor’s Congregation Beth Israel. In September 2020, an Orono man was accused of defacing concrete barriers in downtown Bangor that had been painted with the LGBTQ flag (he pleaded not guilty to criminal mischief). In March of 2021, a man in Portland allegedly yelled at a woman of Asian descent to “go back to where she came from,” according to police, and damaged her vehicle.
Most recently, Tahmoor Khan of Bangor was the victim of a racist graffiti incident. His message to the alleged perpetrators, “be better as human beings” should be part of the statewide and national response to this recent hate crime data.
We’re also reminded of the story of Erwin Kreuz, the wayward German who accidentally found himself in Bangor in 1977 and was embraced with open arms. Here in America’s whitest state, we need to be embracing people of all backgrounds, not just those who look like us.
Mainers have often shown how welcoming we can be. It’s part of who we are. But with more Mainers committing hate crimes, we must recognize that this too is part of who we are as a state. It shouldn’t be, and we all have a role to play in choosing kindness and acceptance over hate.