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City approves anti-bias training, plans listening session

By Kendra Caruso | Jun 23, 2020
Source: File photo

Belfast — City Council on June 16 approved implicit bias awareness and individual difference training for all city staff and officials, as civil rights protests and riots continued to sweep the nation following a Black man’s death in Minneapolis police custody.

Councilors also discussed releasing a public letter and holding a listening session about the city’s stance on implicit bias.

City Manager Erin Herbig, who proposed the training, said it will equip city employees with a better understanding of implicit bias, race and gender, and will help bridge possible cultural and racial differences between them and city residents.

Workplace Performance, which also trained the Belfast Police Department in crisis intervention and implicit human bias, will lead the training, she said. There will be four groups of about 35 people in one of the city’s large buildings, probably the Public Works building, to accommodate 6-foot social distancing.

Councilor Neal Harkness said he supports the training and that it is not a response to complaints in the city, but rather to help city staff gain a better understanding of differences they may encounter with those they meet while working. He said every human has biases.

The council went on to discuss holding a conversation with the public about implicit bias and people’s experiences with it in Belfast.

Councilor Mike Hurley said there is nothing the city can say to change implicit bias, and he understands that people want more than just a statement. He said since civil rights protests have increased across the nation, he has started noticing cultural diversity in Belfast and said the city needs to hear residents' voices.

“All you have to do is ask a Black person what it’s like to be a Black person in America and they will tell you,” he said. “ ... This is not something that’s going on somewhere else. These are our citizens, our children. ... So, I think the training is a good idea. I think a statement is a good idea.”

Councilor Paul Dean said he is dismayed to realize that not much changed after the race riots 60 years ago. “This is a chance for Belfast to weigh in and stand shoulder to shoulder and address this problem,” he said.

Councilors told stories about implicit bias they have seen from the communities where they have lived over the course of their lives. They talked about the history of racism in Maine and "sundown" towns, where Black people were prevented from leaving their homes after a certain time at night.

Hurley said he understands that he might have a privileged experience with Belfast Police Department as an elected official, but said he has 100% confidence in the department. Councilor Mary Mortier said Belfast has a community police station and has not purchased military surplus equipment.

“This is a 50-year movement and the young people are leading it,” she said. “… but they’re not alone in leading it; it’s their parents and grandparents, too.”

Herbig said she will plan a date for a public listening session and write a public letter based on the councilors' discussion.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Ralph Stanley | Jun 25, 2020 15:22

I thought the council had been informed about this when the previous mayor stood her ground and insisted the council conduct this training. So is this sensitivity class 201. Last I remember, she was endorsed by Harkness and the mayor emeritus Hurley. She was essentially alone in the endeavor with no national agenda to back her up. Marginalized in the end, she moved on.

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