Lewiston's immigrant leaders call for tolerance, peace

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LEWISTON — Standing just outside City Hall on Sunday morning, leaders of the city’s ethnic, community and religious organizations delivered a message of peace, and urged tolerance against rising ethnic tensions in the downtown.

The group, which included more than 20 representatives, was joined by family and friends of Donald Giusti.

Giusti, 38, of Lewiston died Friday afternoon at Central Maine Medical Center from injuries he received during a brawl near Kennedy Park on Tuesday night.

Witnesses said Giusti was beaten as two groups clashed near the downtown park. The brawl was said to have been the result of ongoing disputes between the two groups. Police have not publicly identified anyone who might have been involved.

Jim Thompson of Auburn, who is Giusti’s uncle, spoke emotionally about the family’s loss and its desire that “we need to learn to live together (because) this is what happens when we can’t do that.”

How many, he asked, “will have to die?”

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“We need this to stop,” he said. “We need to work with police, and with each other to make it better.”

At the start of the press conference, Fatuma Hussein, executive director of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine, read a statement on behalf of local immigrant leaders.

“Our community,” she said, “is proud to be part of this city. We express condolences to the family and friends of Donald Giusti, who died this week.”

She called his death a tragedy, and said, “Violence has no place in Lewiston.”

“We condemn what happened in the strongest terms,” Hussein said, and hope “that Donald’s death will lead to reflection and a new peace” in the city, and that Kennedy Park will be viewed as a gathering place for everyone to enjoy.

Fowsia Musse, executive director of Maine Community Integration, said members of Lewiston’s ethnic community “fled from war-torn countries to come to the United States. We want peace. We came here for a safe haven.”

Noting that the ethnic community is itself in mourning after the drowning death of Lewiston Middle School student Rayan Issa at Range Pond on Tuesday, Musse urged Lewiston to “be united in peace” and to not give in to violence.

Hussein was critical of misinformation being spread largely through social media about what prompted Tuesday’s attack and who was involved, and cautioned against identifying a certain ethnicity before the police investigation is complete.

She said the city’s ethnic community wants a better relationship with city police, and that they are willing to work with police on the investigation.

Musse had stronger words for police, urging the department to address incidents of tension earlier, when concerns are first raised, to prevent further violence.

“Lewiston has a reputation of working together,” Musse said. “Together, we can be stronger and fight outside influences” of intolerance.

Earlier this week, Lewiston police Lt. David St. Pierre said police are working to determine whether there were racial elements to Tuesday’s fight, an assertion made by many in the aftermath of the brawl.

Those assertions have circulated widely throughout social media, many of which have contained explicit threats of violence against immigrants living in Lewiston, causing spokespeople for the Refugee Resettlement for the State of Maine at Catholic Charities and Maine Immigrant & Refugee Services to call for caution.

According to police, tensions have escalated at Kennedy Park over the past month, including at least three confrontations between groups of people that have been called “concerning” to police.

The most recent clash that resulted in Giusti’s death started after teens in a car reportedly drove past the park and shot pellets and BBs at a group gathered there, according to Sun Journal sources who said they witnessed the events.

Several members of the group pursued the car to Knox Street, where a melee broke out, the teens reportedly wielding sticks, bats and bricks, sources said. During this altercation, Giusti was struck on the head, receiving an injury that eventually resulted in his death.

“There were certainly different ethnic origins involved in the fight,” St. Pierre said Thursday. “I don’t know exactly how many,” but witness reports and social media posts suggest there were as “many as 30 or 40 people from different ethnic backgrounds.”

As of late in the week, police had not verified those accounts are accurate.

As the 15-minute press conference — where police stood guard nearby — came to a close Sunday, Thompson and other members of Giusti’s family walked up to Hussein and thanked her and community leaders standing with her for their collective words of peace.

His words prompted Hussein to suggest the leaders and Giusti’s family and friends hold hands for a moment of silence. In that silence, tears fell.

When the moment passed, members of both groups took time to hug one another and offer condolences on their respective losses.

Donald’s sister, Tina Giusti, said “the violence has to stop. We need to come together and spread love. That’s what he did.”

In a statement Sunday afternoon, Lewiston Mayor Shane Bouchard urged all residents to have patience as the state police conduct their investigation.

“I can share with you that city staff, elected officials and our Police Department are working together to address the recent violence in our inner city,” Bouchard said. 

He said he has asked that the city administrator and chief of police brief the City Council on Tuesday prior to the public comment period of their meeting in order to update the public on “exactly what measures are being taken to make our city safer in the wake of this tragic incident.” 

On Thursday, the Giusti family will host a barbecue and vigil for friends and family at 4 p.m. at Kennedy Park.

On Friday, a memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. at the Salvation Army office on Park Street.

In announcing these plans, Thompson noted that while Giusti’s body was at the medical examiner’s office, an autopsy had not been performed yet because there was a delay while organs were harvested in accordance with Giusti’s wishes.

State Police are assisting the Lewiston Police Department in the death investigation. 

As of Sunday, no one had been charged in the brawl.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

Jim Thompson of Auburn holds hands with Fowsia Musse, left, and Abdi Abdalla in downtown Lewiston during a gathering Sunday morning against rising ethnic tensions. Thompson is the uncle of Donald Giusti, who died from injuries he received when he was beaten Tuesday night near Kennedy Park. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Tina Giusti and her daughter, Rayenelle Crockett, 15, listen Sunday morning to a message delivered by members of the ethnic community in downtown Lewiston. Giusti’s brother, Donald, died from injuries he received Tuesday night when he was beaten near Kennedy Park. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Sharif Batre hugs Tina Giusti  in downtown Lewiston during a gathering Sunday morning against rising ethnic tensions. Giusti’s brother, Donald, died from injuries he received Tuesday night when he was beaten near Kennedy Park. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Fatuma Hussein, center, of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine, reads a statement Sunday morning on behalf of local immigrant leaders. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

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