Maine is an overwhelmingly white state. At 94.4% white, according to the 2010 Census count, Maine remains one of the whitest states in America, which is no small feat given the shifting demographics in the United States.
As such a white state, it means that it is not uncommon, especially in Northern Maine, to encounter living, breathing human beings who have had little to no interaction with non-white people. People whose worldviews about people of color have been shaped by media. People who assume the absolute worst based off nothing but what they have been fed by others and whose lack of lived experience gives them no reason to counter the images that are fed to them.
This is why when Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, stated back in 2016 that “guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” come from New York and Connecticut to sell their heroin in Maine, and “half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave,” it wasn’t based on any actual facts, just half-cocked assumptions that were both racist and insulting to Black folks—especially the ones who call Maine home.
A quick Google search will reveal that Maine’s governor holds questionable views on Black people and given that he is the governor of this state, that is very problematic. Maine, like many states, is in the grips of a drug epidemic. But to lay the blame for that at the feet of Black people is simply a tired and worn-out trope that can have real-life consequences for Black and Brown people in this state.
Which is why when this story came across my desk, it made me stop in my tracks. In the Portland Press Herald, a major newspaper in this state, the headline reads “Maine man, 2 women from New York accused of dealing crack in midcoast” and in this story the headline reads “Mainer swept up in drug bust with NY twosome.”
A quick read of both pieces tells us that Raquel Renfro, 18, of Rochester, N.Y., and Shaundrea Fuller, 20, of Rochester, N.Y., were charged with aggravated trafficking in drugs, according to paperwork filed in Knox County Unified Court. Meanwhile, Joseph Malburg, 51, of Warren, was charged with trafficking in drugs. All three were taken to the Knox County Jail in Rockland. Bail for Renfro and Fuller was set at $50,000 cash; Malburg’s bail was set at $2,500 cash.
Two young adults and a man who is old enough to be their father or even grandfather are arrested for drug trafficking but the two young people get the sky-high bail and the 51-year-old gets the $2,500 bail. Seems rather a stark inequity to me. Perhaps it’s just me, but the alarm bells are ringing, especially because these two girls are extremely young and—I am sorry, but I have a hard time believing that a barely-adult and barely-out-of-her teens pair has the connections or means to move drug weight at that level without someone else being behind this. I also know that sex trafficking is a very real thing that happens in Maine and in communities of color. So the possibility that they are being manipulated or forced into this work is rather high.
I also know that the media is very selective in how we frame suspects. Too often, white suspects in the 18-21 age range are still viewed as youth, but that framework is rarely applicable to suspects of color. In fact, too often Black children and tweens are viewed as being adults by white folks, particularly when they are suspected of doing something wrong. And even beyond the skewed perceptions, let’s just talk about being 18 or even a couple years older. Technically, one is an adult at 18 but the science tells us that the brain is still growing and to be frank, I think this is one of the many reasons that white suspects in this age range are presented as teenagers rather than adults because while they are legal adults, they are also teenagers.
Look, I don’t know the suspects, I don’t know the case and I am not an attorney but I do know that this case isn’t passing my smell test, I know that Maine is a state where race matters and that we have a governor who has on more that a few occasions been very clear about who he sees as the enemy: people of color, whether native to Maine, immigrants to Maine or visitors from other states. I also know that implicit bias is a real thing and that all these factors together means that it is less likely that these young women would be seen as anything other than a problem. It means that if they are in fact part of something they were forced to be a part or were somehow brought here to work, what is the likelihood that someone will see them as victims and not predators? Black girls going missing and ending up in bad situations is a reality in this country. Too often Black girls go missing and their stories rarely even touch the national conscience; Black children are targeted at early ages and deemed to be problems.
Perhaps it’s just the mother and grandmother in me, but I hope that the powers-that-be dig deeper in this case before throwing these young women away.
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