The Lewiston-Auburn community has seen a recent rise in tension and violence that raises the necessary question, “What can we and our elected officials actively do to promote positive change and healing?” On June 12, ongoing disputes between two groups in Kennedy Park escalated into a brawl and led to the beating of Donald Giusti. He died due to his injuries a few days later at Central Maine Medical Center.

In the age of smartphones and media saturation, the public reaction to Giusti’s death was sadly and overwhelmingly predictable. Almost immediately, I observed a deluge of social media comments that neglected facts and details surrounding the incident and rather illustrated and contributed to divisive sentiments on topics of race, immigration and community. As reported by the Sun Journal, the comments on an initial post of theirs regarding the event were so prolifically negative that they had to have two people monitor their Facebook account. Eventually, they both couldn’t keep up, and the Sun Journal decided to delete the post.

On the other hand, what was perhaps unpredictable was the reaction of Donald Giusti’s family members. One could anticipate that if anyone were to be publicly outraged or inflammatory in response to his death, it might be those who were closest to him; however, what transpired was quite the opposite. Even in the midst of an investigation and the absence of an arrest, Giusti’s family advocated for change and appeared with members of the immigrant community to appeal for peace and kindness.

Measures have been taken to make the park safer and more secure. The curfew is now set at an earlier time and cameras have been installed to increase surveillance. However, sustainable change goes further than that, and it starts with each of us.

Jim Thompson, Giusti’s uncle, urged residents to work together to prevent this tragedy from occurring again. Fatuma Hussein, executive director of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine, condemned the incident and said, “Violence has no place in Lewiston.” The message is clear: to move forward in harmony, we need to stand up against intolerance and forge ahead together.

That being said, why was there such a contrast between the negative online reaction of those who were distanced from the incident and the positive coming together of Giusti’s family and leaders of Lewiston’s immigrant community? What makes the difference?


Perhaps it is a lack of accountability and perspective. Giusti’s family showed empathy even when in mourning, yet random online posters added to a sea of divisive rhetoric. This has to change if we are to create a more peaceful tomorrow. We have to do the work. What conversations are we contributing to when we post comments on Facebook? It isn’t set it and forget it. Our words and actions have meaning; we must critically think about how we relate to and advocate for each other.

The late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” People need to step outside their assumptions and make mental and emotional room for new ways of thinking and understanding. Identify biases and take active steps to look beyond them. Do the arguments you support have a factual basis? For example, as detailed in a recent Sun Journal feature story, Lewiston is experiencing its lowest crime rate in the past 24 years. In 2014, Sub-Saharan African immigrants in Maine earned $137 million dollars and paid $40 million in taxes (both figures are most certainly higher now). Lewiston High School graduation rates are 5 percent higher for immigrants than for native-born students. If these truths challenge your assumptions, lean in to that discomfort and do the work required to be accountable and to move forward in solidarity.

People need to recognize and celebrate diversity in their communities. Leaders need to speak up.

I remember watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood growing up, and we recently took our kids to see the documentary about Fred Rogers’ life and the show. Mr. Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, took the opportunity during each episode to unreservedly declare that we are all neighbors and that we all deserve to be loved, valued, and heard. The future of our community rests on our efforts to treat each other as neighbors and remember the inherent value in each of us.

Carl Sheline lives and works in Lewiston and serves on the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

Carl Sheline

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