Maine Gov. Paul LePage gave a speech on Friday in which he encouraged law enforcement to profile people of color, who he claimed are "the enemy right now" in the state's opioid crisis.
“Look, the bad guy is the bad guy, I don’t care what color he is,” LePage said, as first reported by the Portland Press Herald. “When you go to war, if you know the enemy and the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, then you shoot at red.”
The Republican governor then turned to the House Minority leader, a member of the Maine Air National Guard, and said: “Don’t you—Ken [Fredette, Republican of Newport], you’ve been in uniform? You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”
In another statement that week, LePage claimed that 90% of drug arrests in Maine are black or Latino people. (Maine is 94.9% white, according to the most recent census data. Black residents account for 1.4% of the state's population, while Latino residents account for just 1.6%.)
LePage is the same governor who said earlier this year that the state's heroin epidemic stems from "guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty" coming from places like New York to sell heroin in Maine and "impregnate a young white girl before they leave."
Heroin-dealing men of color from out-of-state impregnating white women, he continued, "is a real sad thing because then we have another issue that we’ve got to deal with down the road.”
The ACLU of Maine responded to LePage's claim about drug arrest rates by filing a Freedom of Access Act request for state records on these arrests.
“According to the governor, Maine police are nine times more likely to arrest people of color for selling drugs than white people, even though we know white people are just as likely to commit drug offenses," Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, said in a statement. "This alarming disparity in arrests raises significant concerns that Maine law enforcement is participating in unconstitutional racial profiling."
In April of this year, LePage vetoed a bill that would have made Naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, available over the counter. The American Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control are among the major medical and public health organizations that support making the life-saving drug more widely available, but LePage claimed that increasing access to the Naloxone would foster "normalcy and security around heroin use."
Maine saw a 31% increase in drug overdose deaths in 2015. At the same time, the state spent 6.6% less on drug treatment and prevention, according to data obtained by the Press Herald from the Department of Health and Human Services.