Maine Somalis Generate Dueling Protests
In response to a smaller white supremacist demonstration, more than 4,000 people gathered Saturday for a rally against racism in this city where the mayor once urged Somali immigrants to stay away.
Police brought in reinforcements and closed roads to keep the groups of demonstrators apart.
The supremacist World Church of the Creator planned its demonstration to denounce the presence of the more than 1,100 Somalis who have made Lewiston their home over the last two years.
Matt Hale, leader of the World Church, did not attend after being arrested Wednesday in Chicago on charges of trying to arrange the murder of a federal judge.
As the 32 anti-Somali demonstrators gathered at a National Guard building, more than 200 opponents of the World Church assembled outside. “We want to look them in the eye,” said Rob Hoyt of Portland.
The main group of demonstrators supporting the Somalis gathered more than three miles away on the campus of Bates College. They included new Gov. John E. Baldacci, as well as GOP Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins.
“We stand united as one in Maine when it comes to neighborliness, when it comes to tolerance, when it comes to opportunity,” Baldacci said.
“It is essential that we join in repudiating the rally of white supremacists in Lewiston,” said Snowe, whose father was an immigrant from Greece and who grew up in the Lewiston-Auburn area.
Mayor Larry Raymond caused an uproar in October when he asked Somali residents to discourage their friends and family from moving to Lewiston, saying, “Our city is maxed-out financially, physically and emotionally.”
Raymond issued an open letter in which he warned of a strain on resources if more Somalis move to the city of 36,000. He said Lewiston cannot continue receiving newcomers “without negative results for all.”
Somalis said their presence revitalized the mill city and filled empty tenement buildings. They called the mayor an “ill-informed leader who is bent toward bigotry.”
Raymond has said his statement was misunderstood. He said he planned to be out of town on vacation Saturday.
Maine is 97% white, the largest percentage of any state in the nation.