Lewiston, Maine has a large and growing immigrant population, partially the result of secondary migration from other metropolitan areas in the United States. Recently, conflict has been on the rise between the immigrant population and the white community. Low-level tensions escalated in June 2018 when a fight erupted between white and immigrant residents over claims to Kennedy Park, a local gathering place. Tensions between the two groups simmered for several weeks. The situation culminated in a fight in which a white male died after being struck by a rock. State police believe race played a factor in the fight.
Following the June 2018 incident, the Lewiston chief of police requested CRS services to help ease racial tensions and strengthen community relations. Community leaders and city officials requested a City-Site Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (City-SPIRIT) program for Lewiston and neighboring Auburn to address community tensions. CRS formed a working group and provided the group consultation services to help plan the City-SPIRIT program.
In October 2018, CRS returned to Lewiston to facilitate a community dialogue at Central Maine Community College, jointly convened by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maine (USAO-ME) and the Lewiston chief of police for more than a dozen participants to discuss possible ways to address tensions in Lewiston and Auburn, including holding a City-SPIRIT program.
CRS continued providing the working group consultation services while they planned with upcoming City-SPIRIT program. In April 2019, CRS, with external assistance, facilitated the City-SPIRIT program in Lewiston for a diverse group of community members, including civic leaders and faith leaders.
In homogenous groups, participants identified issues impacting their community, including unspoken community tension and the need for more education on Islamic culture and practices. Then, participants re-formed into seven heterogeneous groups to develop solutions unique to their community, intended to reduce conflict, improve communication, and minimize the potential for future tensions. These proposed ideas included increased funding for English as a Second Language (ESL) training, creation of a cross-cultural community center, and cross-cultural events at schools and throughout the community to share different traditions, foods, and languages.
To encourage long-term success of the SPIRIT process, CRS returned to Lewiston and Auburn with the mayor’s support to attend and help facilitate meetings of a group, called the SPIRIT Council. As a step towards preventing future escalations and tensions, the Lewiston chief of police agreed to contact CRS whenever law enforcement make an arrest that could inflame race-based tensions in the city.