To criminals ‘From Away’

By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  August 17, 2011

New York is home to a statue that welcomes the tired and poor (and huddled masses) to the United States. That is a wonderful notion.

Maine is a state that often attracts people from places like New York, who want a quieter, slower pace of life. That is also good.

But perhaps not so good when New York sends us drug traffickers.

Even worse when they are black men.

You see, two crimes being relatively equal, the perpetrators of those crimes may make their respective crimes much more notable. Or damaging. Or perceived as more heinous.

If you're a person from New York (or Boston, or wherever), and you come to Maine and get busted for dealing drugs, there is going to be an attitude among many locals that "those outsiders" are trouble. It makes people less welcoming to regular, law-abiding people From Away — like me and my husband.

Because, let's face it: If you're From Away and you commit a high-level crime like drug dealing or murder, you're going to get more attention. I still haven't seen, blasted across the local news, the face of a local guy I know of who was arrested months ago for regularly dealing drugs just a few dozen feet from an after-school program for kids. But a former Atlanta resident, or New Yorker, or Bostonian, in my media-consuming experience, ends up consistently getting decent newspaper and television play, even if they were manufacturing and/or dealing miles away from a place that serves children.

This impacts me as someone who is From Away, and from a large city (Chicago). I can't control that, of course — only deal with it. And thankfully, the impact I feel from attitudes by natives is mild when some who is simply From Away does such things.

When that person From Away is black, though, it hits very close to home.

The point has been made again and again by me and others how it's often more common for people of color who commit crimes to get prominent play in the news. This is especially true when those crimes are committed in places where the population is so overwhelmingly white. And anger can often run high against those criminals and anyone who looks like them.

When a white person commits a crime in an overwhelmingly majority-white place, people don't see that as a reflection of inherent bad behavior among fellow members of their own race. When someone of a darker hue commits the crime, especially someone From Away, I can see the definite trend among comments on the Portland Press Herald site and other online venues about how bad "those people" are.

Sadly, in the aftermath of someone like Rahman K. Williams of New York or Jeremy S. Chappelle of New York, both arrested for drug trafficking in the past week, I often become "one of those people" by extension. Worse, my young adult son definitely does.

In the past, he's already been called racial epithets by complete strangers hurling full cans of soda at him from moving cars. He's already been harassed and brought home in a police car for nothing more than walking home from a convenience store with a steak-and-cheese sandwich at night. He's already almost been set upon by an angry white stranger in Saco for nothing more than his skin color.

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