Dane Morgan, who has helped to organize Black Lives Matters marches in the Lewiston-Auburn area, believes that the area’s racial arrest figures are in line with the rest of the country. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Arrest rates of Black people by police in Auburn and Lewiston are roughly four times higher than the percentage of African Americans who live in those cities, according to data released by the two police departments and census figures.

City officials widely dispute those numbers, saying the U.S. Census figures are significantly outdated since the last official national head count was done a decade ago. Even in 2010, they say immigrants living in the Twin Cities were grossly undercounted.

Of the nearly 1,350 arrests in 2019 where Lewiston police took those suspects into custody, 22% of them were Black or African American.

U.S. Census figures for 2019 show Blacks or African Americans represent 5.2% of Lewiston’s population of 36,225 people.

That same year in Auburn, local police arrested 771 people and took them into custody. Of those, 18% were Black or African American.

Of Auburn’s 2019 population of 23,414, Blacks represented 1.3%, according to U.S. Census figures.

The racial disparity among Auburn arrestees from 2015-18 ranges from 10% to 12%, with a spike in 2019.

In Lewiston, arrests of Blacks or African Americans from 2015-18 ranges from 21% to 23% of the total number of people arrested and taken into custody.

By contrast, although whites make up 87% of Lewiston’s population in 2019, according to the census, just 78% of those arrested in Lewiston that year were white.

In Auburn that same year, whites made up more than 90% of the population, but just 81% of those arrested and taken into custody that year were white.

Summonses issued by the two departments over that same period told a similar story.

In Auburn, a range from 9%-12% of the total number of people issued summonses were Black or African American.

In Lewiston, of the total summonses written by local police, the number issued to Blacks of African Americans ranged from 19% to 23%.

Lewiston Police Chief Brian O’Malley cast doubt on the accuracy of the minority population numbers cited in these calculations.

“I do not believe the census figures that you are reviewing are an accurate representation of the minority population in the city of Lewiston,” he said in a written response to questions posed by the Sun Journal.

“We have many people that have arrived into our community that have not been counted in the census information,” he said.

Lewiston Mayor Mark Cayer said he believes the immigrant population living in the city likely is closer to 8,000, most coming from Somalia or other African countries.

He calls the current census figures “very wrong” and faulted the 2010 census figures for failing to include many of the immigrants who had already moved to Lewiston.

“The census numbers have always been inaccurate,” he said, which also has caused problems with federal funding.

If the true number of Black or African American residents in Lewiston were 7,500, as some national publications estimated last year, that would mean as many as 21% of Lewiston’s total population is originally or ancestrally from Somalia or another African nation.

When viewing those estimates in the context of the arrest data for Lewiston, Cayer said the numbers begin to make sense.

“That really is in line with the percentage of the Black and brown residents in our community,” he said.

When Safiya Khalid won a seat on the Lewiston City Council last year, some national reporting publications pegged the city’s immigrant population at one-third of its total population.

Police Chief O’Malley said he was told by the Lewiston School District on Friday that the city’s student population is 47% nonwhite.

Auburn police Chief Jason Moen answered questions posed by the Sun Journal.

He said: “It is important to keep in mind Auburn is a service center for the tri-county area with a large retail and industrial district. The population of Auburn is estimated to swell to over 50,000 daily from the residential population” that is half that size.

“A good example of this is the anti-shoplifting campaign we conducted in 2019 after the community experienced a dramatic rise in shoplifting cases, driving up the crime rate,” he said. “The anti-shoplifting campaign directed staff to make physical arrests in all reported adult shoplifting cases as well as a public information campaign regarding shoplifting and the impact on the city’s crime rate. For 2019, 73% of all shoplifting arrests were committed by nonresidents coming to the community to commit crime, specifically retail crimes. In addition, 17.2% of all the arrests for shoplifting in 2019 (involved Black people). In the case of a shoplifting arrest, we are responding to a store where loss prevention personnel have detained a subject.”

Moen said in 2018 and 2019, 54% of arrests in Auburn involved non-residents.

“When you drill down further into the numbers, in 2018 4.3% of our arrests involved blacks who live in Auburn and 6.1% in 2019,” he said.

Moen said he doesn’t believe his officers factored race into their reasons for making arrests.

“I firmly believe that racial profiling is not a factor in any enforcement action taken by an Auburn Police Officer,” he said.

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque responded to the arrest statistics by saying in a statement that: “If officers were releasing some offenders, yet arrest(ing) minority offenders, THAT would be racial bias. This is not what is happening here in Auburn,” he said.

Levesque said his city has a commitment to “the values of justice and fairness.”

He said law enforcement “is a vital component to ensure we are maintaining those values. As a national and statewide accredited force, my faith in the Auburn PD is unwavering.”

Both cities’ police departments conduct regular racial bias training, according to their respective departmental policies.

Moen said rates among Black youth “show the need for more juvenile outreach programs to educate and mentor our kids and serve as an early intervention prior to arrests being made.”

Last week, Lewiston officials voted to establish an ad hoc committee aimed at advising the City Council and making recommendations on “steps to ensure that the city treats all residents and visitors equally and that its workforce represents our community’s diversity,” Cayer said in an earlier press statement.

That action was prompted by the recent killing of George Floyd in Minnesota by a police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, causing his death.

The killing sparked protests around the country in towns and cities, including Lewiston.

Dane Morgan, a Lewiston Realtor, has coached basketball at high school varsity, middle school and youth programs in the Twin Cities as well as helped kids at risk and worked to institute a restorative justice program at a local school. As a local activist and organizer of recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations, he said the racial arrest numbers seemed high, but were not really a surprise.

When Morgan first came to Maine a decade ago, he gravitated to Lewiston because of its Black population.

“We’re not alone. We’re actually here,” he recalled thinking about the largely white state.

Lewiston has since become more multicultural, especially with the influx of African immigrants, primarily from Somalia, who’ve settled in Lewiston over the past couple of decades, he said.

While Morgan agrees with Cayer that the census figure for the Black population in Lewiston is too low, he’s not ready to accept Cayer’s estimate.

Whatever the real percentage is, Morgan said, “I think we’re very much a microcosm of what the rest of the world looks like,” in terms of race and racial issues, and he said the arrest statistics bear that out.

Much of the problem with the justice system revolves around class, or minorities as an underclass, he said.

“We have those class issues that you’re going to find everywhere else,” he said.

But Morgan said he wouldn’t pick anywhere else to live, raise a family and send his children to the public schools.

“I would just say that I have a love for Lewiston that is very much a love fest,” he said. “I came here. I chose to be here.”

James Howaniec, a Lewiston defense attorney who has represented criminal court-appointed clients locally for more than three decades, said that while minorities may be overrepresented in criminal courts as defendants, they are underrepresented on the juries that preside over the fate of those defendants.

When it comes time to take a case to trial, Howaniec said the disparity rears its head again and again.

“There is something fundamentally flawed with the jury selection process in Maine when virtually all of the juries we pick are completely white and large percentages of defendants are black and other minorities,” he said. “We need to find a way to integrate our jury pools in a way that more reflects the local population.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on July 12 to add comments from Auburn Police Chief Jason Moen that had not been included in the version published in print.

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