Though reports of hate crimes in Maine have declined over the past decade, members of the state’s congressional delegation say it’s important to remain vigilant.

“Hate-motivated crimes targeting religious, racial and ethnic minorities are an attack on the fabric of our society,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a four-term Republican who helped push through the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act starting two decades ago.

The number of hate crimes has gone down steadily in Maine from 63 reported incidents in 2008 to 32 in 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report database.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, a second-term independent, called the decline in hate crimes in the Pine Tree State encouraging but pointed out “even one hate crime is one too many.”

The Sun Journal asked Collins, King and the state’s two U.S. House members — Democrats Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden — about their views on hate crimes as part of a collaborative effort with ProPublica’s Documenting Hate project, which is trying to canvass everyone in Congress about how to deal with hate crimes and the attitudes that spur them.

Golden, who represents Maine’s 2nd District, said hate crimes “are a problem across the country and Maine is no exception.”

He said that despite the falling rate in Maine, 32 incidents remains “32 too many.”

“We have a responsibility to confront hate in all its forms,” Golden said.

Pingree, who has represented the 1st District since 2009, pinned some of the blame for rising rates of hate crime across America on President Donald Trump.

“I believe President Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric has had an impact on the nation,” she said. “Since he’s taken office, Congress has voted multiple times to condemn his racist comments. The most powerful person in our society should not embolden hate with words that tear at the unity of our communities and country,” she said.

But Maine’s legislators generally saw the issue in broader terms.

“It is clear that there is more work to be done on this issue, both in Maine and across the nation,” King said, “and I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address hate crimes in any form.”

After pointing to her leadership on many measures to combat “these horrific incidents.,” Collins said the decline in their numbers in Maine “is a testament to the people of Maine.”

To bolster Pingree’s case against the president, her office pointed to evidence that counties that hosted Trump campaign rallies in 2016 have seen a 226 percent increase in hate crimes.

It also cited the Trump administration’s decision to disband the Department of Homeland Security’s domestic terror intelligence unit that once played a critical part in combating hate crimes.

Pingree’s staff said she backed new spending provisions in a proposed budget that would require the Office of Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention to broaden its scope to counter domestic extremism and provide a report to the committee.

It would also add $5 million to support unsolved civil rights crimes, Pingree’s office said, and would tell the FBI to update a 2008 report on white supremacy recruitment and to provide data about the use of electronic media in the commission of hate crimes.

Golden said that “one of the most important things Congress can do to confront this issue is to ensure law enforcement agencies — at the federal, state, and local levels —  have the resources they need to deter, investigate, and prosecute hate crimes.”

“That’s why I’ve voted to increase funding for the FBI and the Office of Justice Programs, which assists state and local law enforcement in their response to hate crimes, and why I helped pass the Securing American Nonprofit Organizations Against Terrorism Act of 2019, which specifically expands resources available for houses of worship to protect themselves against hate crimes,” he said.

Collins was an original co-sponsor of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 1999 and continued to push the measure until it passed in 2009, the same year she pushed for the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 that included federal protection for hate crimes against people in the LGBT community.

Her office also pointed to her support for a couple of measures aimed at preventing anti-Semitism.

Collins sponsored a tree-planting near the U.S. Capitol in 2015 to honor Emmett Till, whose murder by racists in 1955 marked a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. This year, she pressed for a federal anti-lynching law that would make it a federal crime with tougher sentences.

More recently, Collins has condemned the violence in Charlottesville in 2017 as well as attacks on synagogues, churches and ethnic groups.

In the end, though, laws are not the only answer.

“I know the government can’t do it all,” Golden said. “It’s up to each of us to protect our fellow citizens from hate and take steps to make sure all Mainers feel welcome and safe in our state regardless of their religion, skin color, sexual or gender orientation, or nationality.”

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.