LEWISTON — The City Council passed a resolution Tuesday that condemns racial profiling and excessive force by police and commits the Lewiston Police Department to achieving equality in its practices.

After more than an hour of discussion and public comment, the council voted 6-1 to approve the original resolution, which was introduced by Councilor Safiya Khalid last week on the heels of Black Lives Matter protests in Lewiston and across the nation.

An alternative version of the resolution, shared by Mayor Mark Cayer on Tuesday, was ultimately not considered due to feedback from the public and a majority of the council supporting Khalid’s language.

The resolution commits the city to conduct anti-bias and de-escalation training for police personnel, expand efforts to recruit and hire individuals from minority communities, and through an ad hoc committee, review the process by which citizen complaints against police officers are investigated.

Listed foremost on the resolution is that the council “affirms and acknowledges that Black Lives Matter,” and that it condemns “all acts of excessive police use of force, brutality, and racial profiling throughout the country, in Maine, and in Lewiston.”

In Cayer’s alternative proposal, the statement affirming that Black Lives Matter was changed to reflect that the council “condemns all acts of excessive use of force, brutality, and racial profiling, and affirms and acknowledges, first, that Black Lives Matter in our community and that our city is composed of many communities that differ from one another, but all of whom are integral parts of Lewiston, and all of whom matter.”

Cayer said he crafted the alternative version after hearing from constituents, and is concerned that a petition effort could result in a city referendum on the issue — a campaign that he said could divide the city rather than unite.

Several members of the public, who called in to the meeting via Zoom, questioned why the resolution was controversial in the first place, and implored the City Council to listen to Lewiston’s black and immigrant communities, as well as the only black councilor.

Aleksandar Diamond-Stanic said the original language is “important and powerful.”

“Why would you be uncomfortable saying Black Lives Matter?” he asked.

Others responded to more than one commenter stating, “This is not Minneapolis.”

“Why would we want to water down the resolution?” asked Yaw Anoff. “I don’t think we need to wait as a city to see what happened in Minneapolis to take action here.”

“Certain things might not have happened here but there’s nothing wrong with being proactive,” said Caleb Roebuck.

A number of people identifying themselves as black residents said they’ve seen racial profiling by police in Lewiston, and said that while the Lewiston Police Department has worked to address issues, there’s still work left.

“This resolve speaks the truth, there’s nothing untrue about it,” Nairus Abdullahi said. “Most of you are white, you will never understand the black experience. You are not minorities. Put that in your heads. Let’s not whitewash her resolution and turn it into what you want it to be.”

Abdullahi added that there should not be changes to the resolution because officials are “feeling uncomfortable or you’re sensitive.”

“As a parent of black children, this is a problem in Lewiston,” said Tonya Bailey-Curry. “I’m concerned that if we don’t take preventative measures, we’ll have to take reactive measures. We have an opportunity to set the path in the right direction. Until black lives matter, all lives won’t matter.”

Others, such as Renee Fortin, called in to say “all lives matter,” and that Lewiston does not have a police brutality problem.

“Before we make sweeping changes, we need concrete evidence that our police officers are engaging in those types of activities,” Lisa Belanger said.

Bruce King said Lewiston had the chance to be a leader in Maine.

“These sort of inequities exist here. It will draw the eyes of the state and will send the right message,” he said.

On the council, only Councilor Lee Clement opposed the final vote. Clement, a former 45-year police officer, said he disagreed with the tone of the document and the message it could send to law enforcement.

“This resolve is already the work of compromise,” Councilor Alicia Rea said. “It strikes a balance between acknowledging that our police department has done work but has work to do, and commits us to that.”

Councilor Luke Jensen said he doesn’t read it as a statement on local police, but rather “an example for all police to follow.

“If a system is flawed, and you know it’s flawed, you make a change to the system. Being proactive about these things is good government,” he said.

Following more than an hour of comments, Khalid said she’s seen her own brother be racially profiled by police.

“Tonight we have the chance to begin a long overdue conversation about racial profiling in Lewiston. It is a start,” she said. “We should be willing to acknowledge that these are problems facing this community. We should be able to say Black Lives Matter. No one else on this council truly understands what it means to be black in America. Less than two years ago, the mayor resigned for comparing black people to farm equipment. Our community is crying out for change. This is less than the bare minimum we can do. If we cannot even pass this resolution, what can black people in Lewiston count on? Nothing.”

The resolution also points out long standing policies in Lewiston like a ban on chokeholds, and other city work to address generational poverty. It mentions Lewiston’s “City Spirit” council, made up of a diverse set of community leaders, which is working to create a citywide “equity statement.”

It also “recognizes the need to explore innovative public safety models that emphasize compassion and empathy to move our society away from mass incarceration.”


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