Maine’s Racist Speech Not Confined to Indians

Maine’s Racist Speech Not Confined to Indians

Gale Courey Toensing
5/2/11

'Hate and bias' graffiti on Maine mosque follows news of bin Laden’s assassination


The use of offensive and racist expressions in Maine isn’t just reserved for Indians, apparently.

The Center for Preventing Hate in Portland, Maine, said graffiti spray painted on a mosque in the downtown area of the city on May 2 following the announcement that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden was an act of “hate and bias,’ the Portland Herald reported.

The graffiti, which included comments like "Go Home," “Osama Today Islam tomorrow” (sic), “Long Live the West,” and  “Free Cyprus,” was found hours after Pres. Obama announced bin Laden’s death. Portland police are investigating the anti-Islam graffiti, which was painted onto the Maine Muslims Community Center on Anderson Street.

Steve Wessler, the executive director of the Center for Preventing Hate, condemned the graffiti, the report said.

"Muslims in Maine and across the U.S. deserve the same respect as all others who live here," Wessler told the Portland Herald. "They serve in our armed forces, teach in our schools and care for our sick. On September 11, Muslim firefighters and paramedics courageously stayed in the Twin Towers trying to save lives. The death of bin Laden should be a call for the end of terrorism worldwide. It should not be the beginning of bigotry in our state. We are better than that.”

But bigotry already exists in Maine and instances of it have surfaced over the past few months. The Wiscasset High School board of education recently resolved a sometimes heated months-long debate over the use of the offensive and racist “redskins” sports symbol and mascot when it resolved to adopt a new symbol – the wolverines.

Last week, there was a flurry of media reports when Philip Congdon, Maine’s commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, resigned suddenly on April 27 after allegations surfaced that he made offensive and racist statements in public, including saying those who want economic opportunities to “get off the reservation.” Congdon later denied that he’d told others to get off the reservation but said he may have told a group that he, himself, was going to get off the reservation as a flippant way of saying he was about to say something not necessarily consistent with the administration of Gov. Paul LePage.

American Indian leaders quickly condemned Congdon’s remarks. “Usually people are a bit more subtle than that,” said Kirk Francis, the chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation. “You have four federally recognized tribes in Maine to whom these comments are extremely insensitive at best and the civil rights affirmative action comments are much more than that. I won’t use the word, but it is what it is.”

The graffiti on the mosque was written in maroon paint on the mosque's gray cement block wall, sometime between late Sunday night and about 7:15 a.m. today, when it was discovered by Portland Housing Authority workers on Anderson Street, the Portland Herald said. A crew from Graffiti Busters was called in this morning to remove the graffiti, and it had finished the task by 10:45 a.m.

Officials with the community center said they recently completed purchase of the building, where they've been since 2007, for close to $1 million.

They said they're disappointed by the graffiti and concerned about the impact it will have on children, the report said. The mosque, or masjid, caters to a predominantly Somali Muslim community in greater Portland and is the largest Muslim community in the city. Members say it is the first time the center has been defaced with graffiti. "It makes me feel like I'm not welcome," the group's treasurer, Abdiaziz Mohamed told the Portland Herald. Mohamed said his wife and four children were born in the U.S.

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