Here are the biggest takeaways from last night’s roundtable on race relations in Portland

Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. Let’s end the day with some deep breaths and a few videos of Acadia National Park’s Thunder Hole.

What we’re talking about

Our media partners, WGME, hosted a roundtable Wednesday night on race relations in Portland, after Friday’s Black Lives Matter protest that led to the arrests of 18 demonstrators who were blocking a busy intersection. Here’s the video.

As participant Shay Stewart-Bouley noted on Twitter after the talk, one hour is barely enough time to scratch the surface on race in the United States, but there were a few valuable insights that came out of the conversation.

Yes, racism exists in Maine and in Portland. There was broad agreement among the assembled panel on the point that neither Portland’s strongly left-leaning politics nor the fact that 95 percent of Mainers are white free the city from racial tension.

“Racism does not have any geographic boundary, nor is it based on the number of people of color you have in your state,” said Rachel Talbot Ross, head of the Portland NAACP who is also running for a seat in the Maine House of Representatives. And Portland police Chief Michael Sauschuck said, “Of course, there’s racism here. … From a law enforcement perspective, we’re dealing with hate crimes.”

Discrimination may be subtle and go unnoticed unless you are its object. While the charge of racism may bring to mind images of the segregated South and Jim Crow, Stewart-Bouley emphasized that minorities in Maine more frequently experience a subtler discrimination in the form of dirty looks or people crossing the street to avoid contact. The subtlety of this type of discrimination, known as micro-aggressions, means that if you don’t experience it, you may not notice it at all. That makes addressing the issue all the more challenging, she said.

“I think because Maine is so white there’s a taboo around talking about race. We’ve finally reached a tipping point where we do have these conversations now,” Stewart-Bouley said.

Black Lives Matter is pointing to a specific problem. Stewart-Bouley and Portland Racial Justice Congress organizer Samaa Abdurraqib emphasized that Black Lives Matter — the phrase and the movement — is meant assert black humanity against the ways in which black Americans have been made less than human, from the commodification of their flesh under slavery to the persistent police killings of black men and women.

In light of this particular and ongoing history of racial violence, Stewart-Bouley said that to respond with the assertion that “all lives matter,” as several people did at last Friday’s demonstration, is to miss the point.

“All lives matter is used to deflect from blackness,” she said. “You’re basically saying, ‘I’m not hearing you.’”  — Jake Bleiberg

ICYMI

Two columnists weigh in on the protest — Over the past two days, the Press Herald’s Greg Kesich and BDN columnist Chris Busby both defended the Portland Police Department and criticized some tactics of the Portland Racial Justice Congress.

Here’s Kesich:

[Police Chief Michael Sauschuck’s] willingness to accept even a small part of the responsibility for the horrendous situation facing the country should be a challenge to the rest of us: How much of the blame will we accept, and what are we going to do about it?

Because the problem is not — as protesters chanted last Friday — “racist police.” That would be easy to fix. Just identify the bad cops and get them off the street.

The real problem is the unconscious bias that is baked into all of our institutions and bubbles up wherever decisions are made.

Until the leaders in business, politics, education, religion and the media are ready to show the kind of leadership that Sauschuck is showing, how can we ever expect to make any progress? …

The protesters who shut down Commercial Street last Friday make a legitimate claim that people of color do not feel like full members of the community — that their lives don’t matter.

But blaming cops on the street for racism is like blaming the grunts in Vietnam for America’s Asia policy in the Cold War. The ultimate responsibility belongs to us all.

Busby, meanwhile, says that activists should work with the police on the issues they want addressed before protesting.

… I urge the PRJC to take a less heated, more constructive approach in its dealings with the Portland Police Department. If Portland cops are engaging in any racist behavior, word of it hasn’t reached my ears, and I routinely get an earful from citizens who feel some kind of injustice is happening. If the PRJC is aware of any incidents of police brutality or racism in Portland, they should publicize it immediately and meet with Police Chief Mike Sauschuck to get the problem addressed pronto.

Portland is lucky to have an open-minded, accessible and progressive police chief and a police force that upholds, and is held to, exceptionally high standards. When those standards are not met, then by all means, shout about it from the streets. But the cause of Black Lives Matter is not served by antagonizing or alienating cops who share the movement’s values. Doing so is strategically counterproductive and downright damaging to the effort to get the public on your side.

Body cameras may be a good idea for Portland’s police force. Let’s talk about that. The Police Citizen Review Subcommittee likely could be more accessible and accountable to the public. Let’s put that on the table, too. My advice to the PRJC is this: Before you demand action on those local issues by shouting in protest from the street, ask Chief Sauschuck to work with you on those issues in person.

Man charged in Old Port shooting pleads guilty to assault — WGME reports: “One of the men charged in an Old Port shooting that killed one teen and injured another pleaded guilty Thursday to elevated aggravated assault.

“Prosecutors said Johnny Ouch, 21, fired a gun that night in 2015 but he was not the one who killed [Scarborough teen Treyjon Arsenault].”

Prosecutors dropped a second charge of murder against Ouch. He admitted to shooting the second victim, Mohamed Ali, who survived. 

Hot take: Liquid Riot’s chicken skin sliders are great, but not the best in America — Sam Shepherd considers himself a connoisseur of fried chicken sandwiches. Here, he takes a long, hard look — and several bites — of Liquid Riot’s chicken skin sliders, which were named the best in the country this spring by Restaurant Hospitality, a food service industry site.

The takeaway: Yes, they’re great. But Portland has better chicken sandwiches.

“I’ll not mince words here, they are delicious. Chicken skin can be overpowering, especially as the meat of a sandwich. But the oranges and jam provided enough acidity to neutralize the heaviness of the skin. Our own Kathleen Pierce advises to enjoy them with a cold, crisp sour ale.

“The order, which I shared with a friend, came with three sliders and cost $9. It’s excellent bar food, but not exactly lunch. I could have eaten three or four orders.

“If you were drinking at Liquid Riot, these sliders would, probably, be even better. You might also be in a foggy state where spending $9 on a plate of three Oreo-sized sliders wouldn’t be as disappointing.

“But if we’re talking award-winning here, I’m not sure it’s deserving of its title. In my experience with fried chicken sandwiches, I can name two that are better just in Portland.”

Read his full post here.

Big ideas

How Maine’s national monument debate plays into presidential politics — Nick Sambides reports:

If the president designates about 87,500 acres donated by Burt’s Bees entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby as a federally protected national monument, northern voters outraged at the prospect of a land grab by presidential decree could turn out for Trump, according to Mark Brewer, a professor and interim department chair of the political science department at the University of Maine.

“That’s a pretty popular stance, being opposed to an overly powerful, meddlesome federal government,” Brewer said. “If Obama steps in to do this, that’s like serving one up to Donald Trump and the Republicans on a tee and saying, ‘crush this.’”

It could assure the Republican billionaire walks away with at least one Electoral College vote in Maine, which awards one of those votes to the popular vote winner in each congressional district. The winner of the statewide vote — polls are pointing to Clinton — collects Maine’s other two Electoral College votes.

So a candidate who loses Maine’s overall vote could still wind up with one Electoral College vote — though Trump would be the first to pull it off.

With polls showing faith in the federal government at an all-time low, Trump is unlikely to resist the opportunity to belt into Obama over a monument designation if the Republican nominee returns to northern Maine. Mike Cuzzi, a political consultant who helped organize the Obama and John Kerry presidential campaigns in Maine, expects Trump, who visited Bangor in late June, will be back.

“I think he will play this issue up very heavily in Maine. If it is made, that’s all you will hear about,” Cuzzi said.

Here’s my question for Portlanders: What do you think of President Obama using his executive authority to set aside land in the Katahdin area for potential future use as a national park? It may not be in our backyard, but do you have a strong opinion one way or the other?

Glenn Thrush breaks down Cruz’s refusal to endorse Trump — I’m including here because of this line: “Cruz’s defiance catapulted the ragged, plagiarism-marred, poorly managed convention into nuclear dumpster fire territory.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Rachel Talbot Ross is running for a seat in the state Senate. She is running for a seat in the House.

Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@bangordailynews.com, or tweet @dsmacleod.

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Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the editor of BDN Portland. He's an Orland native who first moved to Portland in 2002. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.