2017-05-19 / Front Page

City adopts ‘hate speech’ resolve

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — While stopping short of declaring South Portland to be a so-called sanctuary city, the city council voted at its most recent meeting to strengthen an earlier resolve expressing solidarity with the city’s immigrant population.

The 5-2 vote at the May 15 council meeting was opposed by councilors Linda Cohen and Machine Beecher.

Cohen said the time to amend the resolution was back in February, when it was originally adopted, although she did voice concern with the national political trend that prompted Councilor Eben Rose to submit the amendment.

“I’m angry tonight. I’m angry this is even on the agenda,” she said. “I’m angry that we even have to be talking about this because the America that I grew up in, the American that I want us to be, does not lash out at their neighbors because of their color, or religion. That is not the country that I love. But it is the country that we are certainly living in now. Somebody unleashed it in the last few years and made it seem like it is OK.”

However, she faulted Rose for suggesting the city’s police department needed to have an official finger wagged at it.

“All seven of us (on the council) support every single citizen in this community, as well as every non-citizen living in or visiting this community, and the last resolution stated that,” she said. “But to bring this forward now and, as Councilor Rose says, to ‘put our police department on notice,’ is an insult.”

“Where does this stop?” Cohen asked. “Are we going to put our fire department on notice that you are not going to let anything stop you from putting out a fire at someone’s house?”

Beecher also said she felt the original resolve worked well enough.

“I’m really concerned that Councilor Rose says he got all this hate mail (about Muslims). I did not get that,” she said. “And, in fact, I think when you start playing around what I call them fluffy words, adding Muslim everywhere, you actually single them out and make them a target. I think the original resolve was absolutely precise and perfect.”

It was three days after the unanimous adoption of the February resolution that Rose requested a workshop for proposed additions. Those edits would have declared that, “South Portland will not assist or cooperate with any raids or detentions or deportations of any immigrants or Muslims,” and that, “this includes the assistance of any law enforcement, or providing data to the federal government without warrant or subpoena where the purpose of such data is to enable such raids or detentions or deportations.”

Rose also hoped to add verbiage stating, “South Portland will not assist of cooperate with registration or surveillance programs of Muslims, or make any attempt to make our friends, neighbors, and loved ones the enemy.”

City Manager Scott Morelli asked Rose to meet with City Attorney Sally Daggett and Police Chief Ed Googins to parse the proposed language.

“Upon this review, staff met with Councilor Rose to discuss their concerns with the proposal and to convey that they would be unable to support the amendments as written,” Morelli wrote in a memo to the full council. “All were able to agree on modifications to the proposed language that would enable the police department to continue to do their job, to keep the city off any federal ‘sanctuary city’ listings, and to keep to the spirit and momentum that was on display at the council’s Feb. 6 meeting.”

Among substitutions to Rose’s original language, the resolution adopted Monday states the South Portland Police Department:

 “Commits to continue its non-biased policing/nonbiased profiling policies and practices;

 “Commits to continue its practice of collaborating with federal, state and other local authorities to protect public safety;

 “Commits to not seeking delegated authority for federal immigration law enforcement under Section 287(g) of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act;

 “Commits to not using city resources to assist or cooperate with any surveillance program based solely on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, or national origin;” and,

 “Commits to not using city resources to create a federal registry based solely on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, or national origin.”

Or, in other words, as Googins said repeatedly at a packed workshop three weeks ago to continue doing as it does already.

“Language has been removed that in the opinion of legal counsel would make South Portland be considered a ‘sanctuary city’ as defined by the Trump administration,” Morelli said. “Although it does not change how our police department operates, I do believe is sends a message for the (city) council to those who may feel impacted by some of the actions at the federal level.

“It does in effect reinforce policy that is already in place, in particular unbiased policing that says we’re not going to target someone based solely on their religion, based solely on the color of their skin, based solely on their sexual orientation, or things of that nature.”

“This is an assertion of community policing that already takes place,” Rose said, amid concerns that getting labeled a “sanctuary city” by the Trump administration could cost South Portland more than $9 million in federal aid.

That concern, that South Portland should not “poke the bear,” was addressed Monday by Orchard Street resident Bob Whyte.

“When I started to unpack that, it literally raised hairs on the back of my neck – that a local government in the United States, which I have adopted as my home country, should give credence to the thought that we fear the federal government taking retroactive and antagonistic action against us, when we are doing something that by the best counsel advice is legal and within our authority, that is a horrible thing to acknowledge,” he said. “That is a fear that should not be countenanced, should not be debated. It is beneath our dignity to talk that way. If that is true, then that’s all the more reason that we should stand up against it.”

Whyte said the other argument against the resolution, that it is a feel-good statement that does not change anything, is equally without weight.

“I would propose that it does make a difference to the world, because it says to the world: This is who we are.”

“It’s important from time to time for us to declare publically who we are and what we hold dear,” agreed School Street resident M.J. Ferrier, likening the proposed resolution to July 4 readings of the Declaration of Independence. “In my estimation, we have stayed far too long with the metaphor of a ‘melting pot’ – a kind of hodge-podge. I think it is time to moved to more of a mosaic – a beautiful thing to hold in which the tiny individual parts maintain their own light and texture at the same time they, together with all the others, for a work of strength and beauty that cannot be surpassed. That, I think, is what is at the heart of what drives this resolution.”

Whyte agreed with others who said it is the general point that is worth making, and one that stands even if Muslims are not mentioned specifically.

“I think it does not dilute the resolution at all if we remove the reference to Muslims and instead stand with all religions, and our policing policies are equitable to everyone, that everyone is treated fairly,” he said.

“I don’t feel the editing is compete,” said Hill Street resident Jim Hoy, who suggested adding a host of religious views to the resolve’s pointed attention to Muslims.

“I feel like there should be no special treatment for Muslims,” he said. “There are people all over the world who are coming here to our free country under asylum situations. I think it’s poorly written to isolate it to Muslims when there is horror all over the world.”

Hoy said he has not personally observed any actual “outward expression of hate or bigotry” anywhere in South Portland directed toward a person of the Muslim faith.

“I think Muslims are targeted in our society today and we need to reaffirm our support of them,” said Deake Street resident Rob Sellin.

Meanwhile, Franklin Terrace resident George Corey pointed out the resolve mentions “all those targeted” in a variety of minority groupings, in addition to its specific mention of Muslims.

“Everybody seems to be focusing on that for reasons I don’t really understand,” he said.

Corey also commented on what he deemed a “very upsetting” letter emailed to city councilors earlier in the day by former Councilor Michal Pock.

“We are not racists,” according to the letter, and asked the council to recommit the resolve to a second workshop, to scrub it of “politically correct” language referring to one particular religion but not others.

“Only four of you need to step up for the honest, hardworking people of South Portland. This is what our parents would do,” Pock wrote.

“By implication – ‘honest, hard-working people of South Portland’ – he’s obviously not referring to any Muslins,” Corey said. “So, it’s a divisive statement.”

“I have to believe this is all happening because of who our current president is,” said Mussey Street resident Greg Lewis. “I’m not a particular fan of that president, or of any other president we’ve had within my lifetime. I just want to point out that this is a president that didn’t start any of the wars that created all of the refugees who are pouring into this county. And the law to build a border wall was passed in 2006 with bi-artisan approval of Democrats and Republicans alike, and 700 miles of that was built during the Obama administration. I urge residents to be diligent no matter who is running for office and to do your research before you cast your ballot.”

In the end, Rose said the amendment, “serves to educate and make public our unbiased policing polices to those who may expect the South Portland Police Department to actively engage in federal immigration enforcement, or on the there hand, maybe more importantly, feel resultant to contact police, based on their immigration status, if they are a victim of, or witness to, a crime.

“Secondly, this puts our police on notice that any changes to this policy will come down to a public body and not just happen in the background,” he said, adding, in reference to opposing emails he reported getting, “I don’t really have a fear of sleeper cells awakening.”

“This will hopefully make the most vulnerable in our society feel safe and put people on notice that selfappointed vigilantism is a crime,” Rose said. “When I see confederate flags flying around the city, that’s not a Maine legacy.”

“I don’t understand anyone’s concern because we are not putting anyone at risk at all, we’re just making a positive statement. This is the very least we can do,” said Councilor Brad Fox.

However, as the representative of immigrant-rich District 5, South Portland’s westernmost voting area, Fox added, “the city has made not effort at all to include them in the life of the city.”

“People in my neighborhood live in fear of what the president of the United States may do to them at any time,” Fox said. “They want to know their neighbors do not support them being ‘taken away,’ as they are in so many countries, and deported or whatever it might be.”

“I think that it’s tragic that we need to say these things,” said Councilor Susan Henderson. “It’s sometimes just the tone that encourages people to attack others, and the tone in our nation right now is terrible. I think this is expressing our best values.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@inthesentry.com.

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