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In Maine, Police Threaten, Intimidate Streetsblog Editor at His Home

Portland, Me., police officers harassed a Streetsblog journalist at his home this morning, threatening him with arrest for undisclosed reasons.

Christian MilNeil, editor in chief at Streetsblog USA sister site, Streetsblog MASS, said that officers made "it pretty pretty clear they [were] upset with [his] recent tweets" citing the need for police accountability, and quoted one officer as saying "I know about your preconceived notions of police — I know them for a fact."

MilNeil refused to grant the officers entry to his home, and they left shortly thereafter.

Following an outpouring of outrage on social media, Portland police announced that their officers were there to serve MilNeil "with a court summons for criminal mischief for damaged city property via graffiti" following the vandalism of two community policing substations in an area in which MilNeil attended a recent protest. Like most states, Maine does not require armed law-enforcement officers to submit court summons in person, and summons for minor property crimes are often delivered by certified mail.

Neither the Portland PD, the Cumberland County District Attorney's office, nor the Portland Mayor's office responded to a request for comment as to why they used city resources to dispatch an armed officer to the journalist's home — especially during a global pandemic when many cities are facing severe funding shortages.

The Black Lives Matter protests have brought the issue of domestic harassment of journalists into focus as hundreds of reporters face arrests, beatings and surveillance. More than 300 journalists have been wrongfully arrested or assaulted during the protests, according to Forbes, while ProPublica reported that police have been spying on black journalists in order to obtain information on the movement.

MilNeil strenuously denies any role in the alleged vandalism, and is baffled as to why he is being asked to appear. One of the substations mentioned in the summons is located in a low-income housing complex — a building which he actually helped get built as a commissioner on Portland Public Housing Authority board.

“It’s definitely not me. The notion that I would vandalize a building that I was a big advocate for is absurd,” he said in an interview with the Bangor Daily News. “That’s not my style of activism or advocacy. There are much more effective ways of saying that the police are overfunded.”

Like many Americans, MilNeil has used his personal Twitter account to join the national conversation about police reform and defunding in response to the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed back man who was killed by Minneapolis police. Even incendiary Tweets are considered protected speech under the First Amendment — and most of MilNeil's followers didn't even find his comments terribly provocative, especially in light of a historic public dialogue about the role of policing in American society in recent weeks.

In one comment, for instance, MilNeil wondered whether small towns like Standish, Me., which relies on county law-enforcement services instead of funding a city-specific force, might serve as a model for successfully defunding the police while preserving public safety in other communities.

Following the officers' departure, MilNeil, who is white, cautioned his followers not to let his experience of police harassment become a distraction from the movement to end systemic police brutality and harassment against Black Americans.

"I'm a white guy, so please, let's remember that most incidents of police harassment don't get this kind of attention," he tweeted.

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