Opinion

Save some outrage for injustice close to home

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Outrage is in right now.

And there’s plenty to be outraged about: The president has asked other countries to help him smear a political opponent, he’s abandoning Kurdish allies in Syria and he continues his relentless attacks against LGBTQ people.

A million people were detained at the U.S.-Mexico border last year, some of them kids who were separated from their families and put in cages. The planet is on fire — literally and figuratively — while the president and Republicans in Congress do their best to gut environmental protections.

And it goes on and on.

But if I can ask, please save a little bit of outrage for injustice closer to home.

Maine is locking kids up in prison not because they have been found guilty of a crime but because we can’t provide appropriate mental health treatment for them.

Families are being stopped, questioned and arrested in Bangor because they looked Central American and may have been overheard speaking Spanish.

In the first case, a child is punished because we have a systematic failure in our health care system. In the second, federal law enforcement authorities are racially profiling people shopping at Goodwill based on how they look.

According to the Portland Press Herald, a 14-year-old boy was held at Long Creek Youth Development Center — prison — for eight months while he waited for a bed at a residential treatment facility. In and out of the facility since he was 11, the boy was found to be incompetent to stand trial.

Despite providing basic mental health services while he was detained, the Maine Department of Corrections could not meet the boy’s medical needs behind bars. Finally, after a long search, the teen has been placed in a treatment facility in New Hampshire and the charges against him have been dismissed.

The case is now before the Maine Supreme Court, which will decide whether it’s a violation of the Constitution to hold a juvenile in prison when they have not been adjudicated and a judge has ordered that they undergo treatment.

I’m going to make this as simple as I can. Mental health care is health care.

Our state’s mental health care system is broken and underfunded and it leaves kids and adults stranded in a hopeless no-man’s land, hidden away with no options for appropriate care.

If I were a judge on the court — and I suspect there are a lot of people who are glad I’m not — I’d find a way to hold the state in contempt for denying mandated care to a kid and force a system-wide fix. Sometimes even the well-intentioned need a boost, and nothing speeds up action quite like a court order.

In the second case, US Border Patrol agents were, apparently, cruising the parking lot of Goodwill in Bangor when they witnessed a grave crime — a group of people walking into a store while looking Central American.

Once the agents began to “investigate,” they heard the family speaking Spanish and decided to question them.

The affidavit filed in support of the arrest of one of the people, who is accused of being in the country without proper documentation, laid out the story as told by the Border Patrol agents.

It’s not illegal to look “Central American” nor is it illegal to speak Spanish. And having dark skin or speaking another language doesn’t establish probable cause to be stopped and questioned.

Based on the agents’ own affidavit, this seems like a clear-cut case of racial program. That’s wrong, and we shouldn’t tolerate it.

There’s no shortage of things to be outraged about right now. It’s easy to become fatigued, to lose sight of the human impacts of all the things that are happening.

But if we don’t stay engaged, kids are going to keep being locked up for being sick and more families will be targeted because of the color of their skin.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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