Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) claimed last month that he has a binder filled with every single drug dealer arrested in Maine, and went on to say that “90-plus percent” of these people are black and Hispanic. This was quite a charge, so the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine filed a public-records request, as did other organizations, to see this curious document.
This week, the binder was made public. It exists! And it most certainly does not show that 9 out of 10 people pictured in it are black or Hispanic. Instead, it actually appears that a majority of people pictured are white.
More than half of the people pictured in the binder appear to be white, rather than black or Hispanic, as the governor claimed. A review of the binder shows that while there are more than 90 photos included, at least 50 of them seem to be of white people. The files alongside these photos do not state outright the race of the people charged, so this assessment is based on the images. (The Portland Press Herald, in its own tally, identified 56 of the people pictured as white.)
In some cases, it is hard to clearly tell the races of people in the photos, as a few of the scans are indecipherable or hard to see clearly. But it is evident from the images that LePage’s assertion that “90-plus percent … are black and Hispanic people” is not correct.
LePage’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday. The Portland Press Herald notes:
His office has repeatedly sought to explain that LePage was specifically referring to out-of-state heroin dealers when he described the race of those arrested, not to dealers in other drugs like methamphetamine, whose photos also are in the binder.
But the photos of the 51 people facing heroin or other opioid drug charges show that only 47 percent, or 24 individuals, appear to be black or Hispanic. The remaining 53 percent, or 27 people, are white. Other press releases in the binder report the names of people charged with heroin trafficking but do not include booking mug shots.
His comments about the binder drew an incredible amount of attention and criticism, coming on the heels of his suggestion earlier this year that Maine’s drug problems are caused by “guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty,” who flock to the state and “half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave.” (After making these earlier comments, he apologized “to all the Maine women” and said he could have picked better words, but did not offer any other apology.)
In August, LePage was speaking at a town hall and was asked about the racially charged comments he’d made about drug dealers. Here’s his response, transcribed from audio released by the Press Herald (emphasis added):
Let me tell you this, let me tell you, explain to you: I made the comment that black people are trafficking in our state. Now, ever since I said that comment, I’ve been collecting every single drug dealer who has been arrested in our state …
I don’t ask them to come to Maine and sell their poison, but they come. And I will tell you that 90-plus percent of those pictures in my book, and it’s a three-ring binder, are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Connecticut, the Bronx and Brooklyn. I didn’t make the rules, I’m just telling you what’s happening.
LePage did not back away from his comments, leaving a lawmaker an expletive-filled voicemail insisting that he is not racist, and then saying that “people of color or people of Hispanic origin” are “the enemy right now.” (This all took place in the same week, mind you.)
The ACLU wondered whether the binder comment meant that police in Maine were nine times more likely to arrest people of color for selling drugs than white people, so they asked to see the evidence. It was released Monday on what the ACLU described as “a CD containing 148 photocopied pages, including a combination of newspaper clippings, photos and emails.”
(Update: LePage’s office got back to us to say that his comments about drug dealers were meant to be focused on out-of-state people. They said his administration had worked to fight the drug epidemic and also objected to a Washington Post editorial calling LePage “unhinged” and telling him to resign.)
The binder includes a smattering of images among copies of articles like this one and news releases announcing the arrests of people charged with selling, manufacturing or possessing drugs such as methamphetamine, heroin and oxycodone, an opioid painkiller.
“The governor has multiple agencies at his disposal that collect arrest data in Maine,” Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, said in a statement. “It is outrageous that he would rely on an incomplete collection of newspaper clippings and emails to make false, inaccurate accusations about people of color.”
This binder, which was posted online, is a curious document. In addition to images of booking photos and news articles, there are also a number of handwritten notes. A note jotted on one page questions why there were no federal charges in a case, while others have “Get photos” or “Get photo for my album” scribbled on the top of the page.
On one page from May, a handwritten comment says that pictures need to be put “in my binder for historical value,” suggesting that LePage was the one jotting down these notes on the pages.
A spokeswoman for LePage did not immediately respond to a question about whether the handwriting belonged to the governor or why his count differed from the photos released by his office.