Trooper John Darcy Credit: Courtesy of Maine State Police

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Michael Alpert is the president of the Greater Bangor Area NAACP and is the current chair of the Board of Ethics for the City of Bangor.

This OpEd is in response to news articles concerning the 2019 “Trooper of the Year” Award, given to Maine State Trooper John Darcy. Darcy’s recent record of traffic stops appears to leave little doubt that he has engaged in systematic, unjustifiable racial profiling.

Before getting into the details of Darcy’s conduct, I want to make it clear that this NAACP Branch knows and appreciates upstanding law enforcement officers in our state who do their work with integrity and compassion. These officers fight to root out systemic racism in their policies and in the management of their personnel and departments.

Darcy’s conduct is specific to him, and the award given to him is specific to the Maine State Police. But the problem of racism is, in a more general and deeper way, built into the structure of law enforcement and into American culture at large. Racial profiling by any law enforcement officer is illegal. It targets people of color for detentions, interrogations and searches without evidence of criminal activity; and it is based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. It must be eradicated.

Apparently, for years Darcy has stopped Black and brown drivers for “offenses” that most Maine drivers would not recognize as offenses. (Have you ever stayed in the center lane where the Maine Turnpike is a three-lane road and the right-hand lane is empty?)

In one case, Darcy was recorded saying that the stop was motivated, in part, by the driver’s hairstyle (dreadlocks) and clothing (a sleeveless t-shirt). He said that the driver “looked like a thug.” This case was dismissed at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Four other cases involving Darcy’s traffic stops are under review. Darcy was involved in 12 suspected racial profiling stops between 2018 and 2019. Several states have compiled data that demonstrates that racial profiling is a pervasive problem for Black drivers.

With all this in plain sight, the administrative leadership of the Maine State Police decided to give Darcy the 2019 “Trooper of the Year Award,” presented Nov. 11, 2020, almost six months after the vicious killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis policemen. One wonders what on earth Darcy was being given an award for. Were the agency’s high officials rewarding him for racist policing? Were they giving him an award for his bigoted language? Does the leadership of the Maine State Police realize that the timing of this award undermines the public’s confidence in responsible law enforcement?

In the press release for the award, Colonel John Cote wrote: “The member selected as the Trooper of the Year must meet several criteria based on meritorious service to the citizens of Maine, bravery, solving crime, combating drug problems, social service, and upholding the core values of INTEGRITY, FAIRNESS, COMPASSION, and EXCELLENCE as their guide as they strive to set the example for all to follow.” (Capitalized words in original.)

Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Cushing, Union, Warren, Friendship, has contended that the award was given as a rebuke to the Black Lives Matter movement, as if the rather simple desire to have Black lives matter were a cause for alarm and retribution. The Bangor NAACP would broaden this criticism: The award suggests that the present leadership of the Maine State Police shows animus toward minorities, and especially toward people of color.

It is long past time for every Maine law enforcement agency to stop racial profiling. Honoring a trooper with what appears to be a record of racial profiling has left many Mainers concerned about the integrity of the Maine State Police. All agencies of Maine law enforcement must eradicate every trace of racism from their training, their daily routine, their policies, and the application of their policies. American justice must lift itself from the mire.

Fortunately, there are police departments in Maine that have made significant strides in overcoming institutional racism. The Great Bangor Area Branch NAACP applauds those departments and their fine leadership, but we cannot turn our backs to the possible motivation for this award.