PORTLAND – Black people in Auburn are four times as likely to be arrested as people of other races, according to a new analysis by USA Today of nationwide arrest data. In fact, all Maine police departments included in the analysis show significant race gaps in arrests: in South Portland, blacks are 3.5 times as likely as non-blacks to be arrested; in Bangor, 3.2 times; in Lewiston, 2.8 times; and in Portland 2.6 times.
By comparison, Ferguson, Missouri arrests black people at a rate three times higher than non-black people.
“We can no longer deny that our criminal justice system, even in Maine, treats people of color differently,” said Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine. “We should strive for a system that keeps us safe while applying justice evenly across the board. Clearly, somewhere along the line something went drastically wrong.”
A recent ACLU investigation revealed that, despite using marijuana at similar rates, black people are nearly four times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, suggesting that disparities in arrest rates are not necessarily an indication of crime rates.
While there is no single reason for the disparities in arrest rates, the ACLU said the gap implicates inherit racial bias in education, employment and policing practices that can result in people of color being arrested at higher rates.
This includes harsh school discipline policies that funnel students out of school and into the criminal justice system and are disproportionately applied to young people of color, and unconstitutional “stop-and-frisk” practices by police departments across the country that lead to far more black people being observed, stopped, searched and interrogated.
“Such a significant gap in arrest rates can’t simply be explained away by efforts to stop crime,” said Beyea. “It’s time for reforms that ensure fair and effective policing.”
The full USA Today analysis can be found here.