LEWISTON — Bates College hosted its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day debate with Morehouse College of Atlanta on Monday on the topic of racism in policing and prison. 

One team argued for police reform; the other for prison reform.

The Olin Arts Center was sold out for the event, which is held in honor of the Rev. Benjamin E. Mays, Class of 1920, a Bates debater, longtime Morehouse president and pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement.

On team Government, which argued for police reform, were Quang Nyugen of Bates and Best Uchehara of Morehouse. They argued that improving and changing how race is treated systemically by police is more important and urgent than how it is treated in prisons. 

Mike Stone of Bates and Keith Matier of Morehouse argued the opposite. 

Jan Hovden, the director of debate at Bates College, opened the event by reminding the audience that the team members are “playing a role, and that the side they’re on is not necessarily their own ideals.” 

“The purpose is to spark conversation and discussion,” Hovden added. 

Both teams were trying to reach the root of what causes systemic racism in America, and what the best way to fix that would be. 

“Ethnic minorities are subject to profiling, barraged with an unjust reality that lies contrary to what is promised in the constitution,” Uchehara said in his opening statement. “Enough is enough. We need reform.”

Stone closed his team’s argument by saying, “I think that this debate boils down to two large areas of clash: What addresses the root cause of racial discrimination as is present in the criminal justice system of the United States? And secondly, what reduces the harms on black individuals more, people of color more, police reform or prison reform?

In Uchehara’s closing rebuttal, he said “the purpose of this debate is to ameliorate racial discrimination. There are too many people in prison who do not belong in prison.”

Hovden closed with a final thought: “What we talked about here today, this won’t solve all racial discrimination. But what does cause social change is a step by step effort to solve problems as we see them.”

To view the debate in full, visit the Bates College event site.

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