The day after a Biddeford white supremacist was sentenced to a decade behind bars for racially motivated attacks on Black men, Sen. Susan Collins—who is locked in a tight reelection race—curtly denied the existence of systemic racism in Maine.
During the final U.S. Senate debate between the Republican incumbent and her Democratic challenger, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, on Wednesday night, the 67-year-old senator was given 30 seconds to say if she believes systemic racism is a problem in Maine—whose population is about 95% white and 1% Black.
Collins only needed about five seconds to answer: "I do not believe systemic racism is a problem in the state of Maine," she replied.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), in the final Maine Senate debate with Sara Gideon, is given 30 seconds to discuss whether systemic racism exists in her state.
Collins gives a five-second answer: "I do not believe systemic racism is a problem in the state of Maine." pic.twitter.com/UPnCAIuAHd
— The Recount (@therecount) October 29, 2020
Noting that she is endorsed by influential police groups, Collins said that "we are very fortunate in the state of Maine because we have terrific members of law enforcement."
"It's clear that in some parts of our country there is systemic racism or problems in police departments," she added.
If only Susan Collins read my blog, she would know that systemic racism is indeed an issue in Maine.
Seriously, given the racial justice work happening across the state, she's clearly disconnected from the state she purports to represent.
— Shay Stewart Bouley (@blackgirlinmain) October 29, 2020
Why are Black Mainers more likely to be arrested for drug offenses than white Mainers and face longer sentences than white defendants?https://t.co/RknwfzGrIj
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— James Myall (@JamesxMyall) October 29, 2020
Gideon retorted that systemic racism exists everywhere in the United States.
"Black lives do matter and the reason we have to say it is because there is a legacy of bigotry in this country that results in systemic racism," she said.
Maine can rightfully claim its share of that ignominious legacy, and not just in the distant past. From racism in criminal justice, policing, schools, healthcare, and housing (and unhousing), to racist statements by political candidates and elected officials—including nationally notorious comments by former GOP Gov. Paul LePage—there is plenty of evidence that bigotry is alive and well in the Pine Tree State.
The state also experiences its share of racist hate crimes. U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen on Tuesday sentenced Maurice Diggins, a swastika-tattooed 36-year-old ex-felon, to 10 years in prison for brutally assaulting Black men in Biddeford and Portland in 2018. Torresen called the crimes "among the most serious I have seen."
In the first attack on April 15, 2018, Diggins and his nephew Dusty Leo—who pleaded guilty in February in connection with the attacks but has yet to be sentenced—approached a group of Black men outside a bar in Portland's Old Port district. Diggins attacked two of the men, breaking one's jaw and knocking another out. Diggins and Leo then chased one of the men as he tried to flee, shouting racial epithets at him.
Diggins and Leo then drove to a 7-Eleven convenience store in Biddeford, where the pair confronted another Black man. Diggins then blocked his path while Leo punched him in the face, breaking his jaw. The pair yelled more racist slurs at the man as he fled.
Both of the men with broken jaws required surgery to wire them back together. The Biddeford victim told the court he moved out of the town because he no longer felt safe there.
The Bangor Daily News saw fit to print that Diggins was convicted by an all-white jury.