Jun. 11—LEWISTON — A national civil rights group on Friday applauded a decision by the Maine Attorney General's Office to not pursue a hate crime investigation into graffiti that appeared on the Bates College campus last month.
In mid-May, Bates was tagged with what some described as anti-Israel graffiti and flyers. Among the comments written were "Free Palestine," "Stop Ethnic Cleansing" and "Israel is killing innocent people."
Gwen Lexow, Bates's director of Title IX and civil rights compliance, told students at the time that college officials had heard from a number of people "expressing deep concern about the impact of the language contained in the flyers and graffiti, particularly on Jewish members of our campus community."
Bates officials asked Lewiston police to investigate. But while some regarded the graffiti as a hate crime, others did not, and the issue divided the student body.
A few days after the graffiti appeared, the student government at Bates joined 14 other student organizations to denounce the college's decision this week to ask police to investigate some anti-Israel graffiti.
"We fear for our communities of color, specifically brown, Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim students, that will most likely be the targets of this investigation," according to a group statement, which also included a call to "free Palestine."
Lewiston police investigated and forwarded a report to the Maine A.G., which decided not to proceed with the matter.
"Even if we knew the identity of the person responsible for the writings on the New Commons dining hall, the complaint would not be actionable under the Maine Civil Rights Act," according to a letter police received from Detective Margie Berkovich, an investigator with the A.G.'s Office. "The writings left on the building express opinions which are not actionable, and there is no evidence that the chalk used to write those opinions caused property damage to the building. Nevertheless, we appreciate that the complaint was reported, and it has been logged in for informational purposes."
On Friday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, self-described as the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, issued a statement declaring that they welcomed the decision.
"The attempt by the Bates College administration and Lewiston police to silence legitimate criticism of Israeli human rights abuses and war crimes is unacceptable," said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, in a press release. "We welcome the decision of the Maine Attorney General's office not to pursue a hate crime investigation of this incident, and we call on leaders and law enforcement across the country to uphold the first amendment rights of everyone to voice their support for the Palestinian people."
Lexow was not available Friday for comment on the decision.