Last month, a Black man in Biddeford was violently assaulted outside of a 7-Eleven convenience store by two white men who hurled racial epithets before physically attacking him. The victim, who has not been identified according to local media reports, suffered a broken jaw and significant physical injuries. He escaped from his attackers by running down an alley. The Attorney General’s office filed a civil complaint against the defendants, as this case is a clear violation of Maine’s Civil Rights Act, and the case is currently making its way through the system.
What’s remarkable about this case is that there was no media coverage or reports about it until mid-May — a month after the fact. A local resident in one of Maine’s most populous cities was savagely attacked ... and somehow it wasn’t deemed newsworthy? Never mind the fact that this attack occurred nearly on the cops' doorstep. For those unfamiliar with the geography of Biddeford, the local 7-Eleven is literally just down the block from the Biddeford Police Department.
The two defendants in the case — identified as Dusty Leo, 27, and Maurice Diggins, 34 — were clearly high on the type of white supremacy and toxic masculinity that renders common sense moot. Two white boys in a pickup truck see a Black person walking alone and decide to have some fun. The men know that victims of color are not seen. By the time this case became public, Leo had already made bail. You beat a man because you don’t like the color of his skin, you are arrested, and by the time anyone even knows what you did, you are already out of jail.
To be a Black or brown person in a state like Maine is to almost always be seen as not quite human. You are a deemed a menace at worst or a curiosity at best — if you are one of the lucky ones, perhaps you are a beloved token person of color. But to be seen as fully human and capable of being a victim? That is a rarity. And it is that type of invisibility that can lead to a victim of a crime of this nature not being seen after the fact (no coverage; no acknowledgement) but it is also the type of invisibility that can lead to you becoming a victim in the first place (with proximity of the police being no protection).
Among folks in Biddeford, there has been praise for the local police department decision to refer this case over to the Attorney General’s office. That’s nice, but that’s their job. I am more concerned about whether people of color feel safe when it comes to the police. I am more concerned about the fact that I doubt that most white people understand the level of fear that exists for non-white people, especially in this current climate.
Attorney General Janet Mills was quoted in the Bangor Daily News as saying, “All Mainers should be shocked by this brutal race-based assault ... This attack has shattered the victim’s sense of safety. No person should be afraid to walk to a store for fear of being attacked due to the color of his or her skin. We filed this action to protect not simply this victim but any person of color who might be targeted by these defendants.”
I am shocked, but less so about the assault. What I am truly shocked by is how little white people know when it comes to racism. Even well-intentioned white people don’t see racism as the insidious and soul-destroying system that is woven into the fabric of our infrastructure. That same system that creates benefits for white people also creates fears for non-white people. It's enough to make walking to the store late at night in Maine feel like a radical act.
Leo and Diggins are not aberrations. They are more extreme and blatant, but hateful people are all around us. Even for the well-intentioned white person, the odds are high that these people are in your life. Even if you don’t see yourself as a racist.
Shay Stewart-Bouley is the founder and editor of Black Girl in Maine media.