PORTLAND, Maine — Members of Maine’s Islamic community say they are often the target of hate on social media. But now, Portland Police are investigating a rare hate crime which targeted a local Muslim market. It’s a crime no one is taking lightly. Not the police. Not the mayor. And not the owner of the market, who says he was targeted by the crime.
Mahdi Ahmed owns the Portland Halaal Market on St. John Street.
“It was bad, you know,” he said. “It’s not OK. It’s not OK. It’s a bad feeling when you see something saying it.”
What he saw on the side of his building was a message of hate. Someone spray painted an offensive and vulgar statement referencing Allah, which has since been erased.
“The social media is filled with anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments,” said Reza Jalali, a leader in the local Islamic community. “So we’re not surprised.”
Jalali said even though most people in southern Maine are tolerant and accepting, there are those who harbor hatred toward local Muslims, many of whom came to the U.S. to flee persecution and war.
“It needs to be condemned by all of us. Today’s victims can be Muslims. Tomorrow it could be Jews,” he said. “And the day after it could be members of the gay community or the poor and so on. The list goes on and on.”
Ellie Miller and Steve Brinn, interim executive director and president of the Jewish Community Alliance, respectively, issued a joint statement Monday calling the vandalism “shameful.”
“The Jewish community of southern Maine denounces the anti-Muslim graffiti found this weekend on the outside of the Halaal Market in Portland,” Miller and Brinn said, in part. “It is important that our entire community, no matter what our faith may be, rejects in the strongest terms bigotry directed against any faith or people.”
Police investigators say surveillance video shows a white man in a black hooded sweatshirt committing the crime around 5 a.m. Sunday morning.
“It’s very distressing,” said Portland Mayor Michael Brennan. “It’s very disturbing to have something like this happen.”
Brennan says he met with owner Mahdi Ahmed.
“I said I was sorry that this happened in the city of Portland, and this isn’t something that we tolerate,” the mayor said. “And that we need to stand up and say this is not acceptable behavior within the city of Portland.”
Mahdi Ahmed said he believes most Mainers don’t agree with the graffiti.
“There’s only actually the one or two people who are bad,” he said. “It’s not everybody.”
Portland police are asking for the public’s help in identifying the person in the surveillance video. Because police are investigating it as a hate crime, the case will be referred to the Maine Attorney General’s Office.
If you think you know who did this, call Portland P.D. at 874-8575. You can also submit an anonymous tip on the Portland Police website or by texting GOTCHA plus your message to 274637 or CRIMES. Anonymous phone tips can be left on the Crime Tip line at 874-8584.
Hate crimes fall under the Maine Civil Rights Act. Persons responsible face up to $5,000 in an additional fine for each hate crime offense.
BDN Portland Bureau Chief Seth Koenig contributed to this story.