On Friday night, August 20, two individuals committed a hate crime against Tahmoor Khan and his family, spray painting racist graffiti on his car and destroying the family garden. Pine and Roses’ Todd Chretien spoke to Tahmoor to get his views on the attack, life in Bangor, and Maine’s future. The interview was transcribed by Coral Howe and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Todd Chretien: To begin with Tahmoor, on behalf of Pine and Roses, we want to express our solidarity and sympathy for what you and your family have experienced. Certainly, no human being deserves that, and we wanted to start by saying so.
Tahmoor Khan: Thank you so much.
TC: Could you say a little bit about your family, yourself, and what you do?
TK: I’m 33 years old, I’ve lived in Bangor for about thirty years now. My family owns a small business downtown, it’s called the Bahaar Pakistani Restaurant—so we’ve been a staple in the community for quite some time.
I have a younger sister who works at Northern Light. She’s an essential worker. Primarily, my work has been done in the community. I used to be an organizer. I’ve worked on campaigns, done a lot of public affairs. My previous employers were Planned Parenthood and the Maine Democratic Party and now I consult on public affairs for those who need my help in the community. I do a lot of work with Black Lives Matter, with Black and Brown women, particularly, for reproductive rights. And especially with young people who are trying to create diversity, inclusion, and equity. I’ve lived in Maine for most of my life. My parents are both from Pakistan. My sister and I were both born here. So, we’re first generation Pakistan-American. My parents truly came here for the American dream and they’ve been providing us with an avenue ever since. We are truly humbled, not only by the community and how they’ve helped us, but also by everybody who has been with us throughout the years, they’ve shown us a lot of gratitude, appreciation and love too.
TC: You’ve been in Bangor a long time. I was born in Bangor a generation before you but haven’t spent much time there since. Could you describe the community and how has it changed over the time you’ve been there?
TK: I’m obviously biased. I grew up in Bangor, so my entire schooling has been here. I even went to college at UMaine at Orono as well. So, I’m very biased towards Bangor. There have been so many events and people who come together in Bangor. There used to be the Penobscot Theater Shakespeare Festival back in the day, Fourth of July festival, Winter Solstice, stuff like that. Bangor is home and I love Bangor. People here are welcoming, generous. I have so many great colleagues and so many great friends. There’s a reason I’m still here.
The one thing I will say is that, growing up, I didn’t really have the diversity that we see a little bit more so now. I didn’t have someone to look up to that looked like me growing up. So, when there were certain situations that you go through—prejudicial, racist, whatever—I didn’t have an avenue to go to. But I will say that in the last five or six years, Bangor, and also the state of Maine, is changing, the demographics have changed. There’s more and more people that are coming out, letting their voices be heard.
I’ve been able to provide that for young people, be that beacon for them. I didn’t see a lot of people like myself growing up. Me and my sister were the only Brown people growing up in high school. Growing up, maybe there were two or three African American children, but I was the only brown person of Pakistani-American descent at Bangor High. It was hard growing up, but when you come into your own as a young man, as an adult, you try to change that. You try to make sure that there are resources, there are avenues for other people to be like, “Okay, I may not know how to do this, but I can reach out to this person, see how it goes, and I can get the help that I need.”
TC: Friends and family who have spent more time in Bangor than me describe a welcoming community, a place that’s connected through arts, culture, education, business and trade unions, not only to other parts of Maine, but the whole world. Although, I have to say that nobody outside of Maine knows how to pronounce it. I don’t understand why people say “Banger” on television!
TK: I know! I don’t understand, it’s Bang-or! There’s an ‘o’ there.
TC: You can forgive them for mispronouncing Calais. At any rate… Bangor, as you’ve described it, and as a lot of people know it, is a welcoming community, but then we have this terrible atrocity which has happened to you and your family. Can you describe what happened?
TK: Friday night, we were all in our house doing our own thing. My father was watching tv. My mother and sister were having a girl’s night. I was watching something on my phone. Our neighbor knocked on our door very aggressively. I thought something crazy must have happened outside, like someone was hurt. So I walked out, my entire family walked out and there were heinous, horrible words written all over my car. You know… “F*** N-people,” “KKK supporters,” “Kill N-people”—it was just egregious. My first reaction was angry, distraught, sad, but in that moment, fight or flight kicked in, so I immediately got on the phone, called the police, and made sure I got all the information. My neighbor was the one who saw everything. He was getting his food order, Uber Eats or DoorDash, I’m not sure, and he was walking out of his house and he heard spray cans and smelled the spray paint, so he flashed his phone light, and he saw two individuals laughing extremely arrogantly and writing those words. As soon as he flashed it they booked it.
When the police arrived, my neighbor and I told them what happened. They said “just hold tight, we’re going to look around the area and see what we find.” About forty-five or fifty-five minutes later, they had one person in custody. And that was it. I posted the pictures on Facebook that night and then, as the morning hit, I took some more pictures in daylight and saw the damage that actually was done.
They had ripped out our entire garden—the garden was completely ruined. There were a bunch more spray cans there, there was acetone, they had sandpapered my entire car, scratched it, wrote Ku Klux Klan right on the hood with sandpaper. After I posted those pictures, the community came out and supported us a lot. Darkside Auto Mobile Detailing, Dustin and Sarah, who are the owners there, reached out to me and offered to help with my car. So I brought it over to them and they cleaned out my car and got the paint off for free and I can’t thank them enough. It just shows there are good people. I offered to pay them but they refused to take the money.
Unfortunately, the car is damaged, it’s scratched up to hell, it’s gonna need work, but at least I can drive it for the time being.
TC: Where do you think their actions come from? Is it totally isolated, is it part of the landscape, is it something new or something old?
TK: I can’t speak for those individuals. Two female juveniles were arrested but released into custody of their parents and now the case has gone to the Attorney General’s office to be processed to see if it’s a hate crime. In my personal opinion, it is a hate crime, it’s as obvious as it can be.
I think it’s a lack of understanding, a lack of education, a lack of tolerance because these are just basic human things. I don’t tend to see things as an issue of this or that, this group of people are better than this group of people. If you’re a human being you should understand what’s right and wrong—it doesn’t matter who you are. These individuals are just fifteen, but they obviously felt a certain way if they think they have this much power to come to my home, come to my safe space and harm me. And clearly they wanted to do more damage, but they were caught. Their intent is malicious, intent to hurt somebody, to take away somebody’s livelihood, their safe space, their mental stability in a sense, and create trauma. And that’s not okay.
So, I would say those things definitely play a factor in how those individuals arrogantly thought they could do this. It just shows that racism, prejudice, privilege, are real things and people need to acknowledge that. People need to take some time to look at their implicit bias, people need to take time to look within themselves and do that work individually. My fellow Black, Brown, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA people, anybody who is different, go through this every single day. This is our reality. When we step out the door we aren’t looked at in society as individuals. We are looked at as almost a proxy of a certain group—”he’s Brown so he’s associated with this, they are gay so they’re associated with that”—it’s not okay. We need to understand that being different is not wrong, it’s okay, and without eradicating this problem on a micro level we’re never going to change this on a macro level.
TC: Powerfully stated. I completely agree about attacking these things on a micro level, and when you get to a point where two 15 year olds are doing this, there are clearly bigger forces at work. There’s a lot of people coming to Maine in the next 20 years between global warming, the fires in California, the droughts, the pandemic… The question is: what kind of state is Maine going to be? Can we create a state where it’s really the way life should be, or is that just a slogan on the Piscataqua River Bridge?
TK: I think that it’s fair to assume that as long as hate is alive and racism is real, which it is, you will have more situations just like this facing Black and Brown individuals, not only in Maine but all throughout the country.
Regarding the state of Maine in the sense of structure and culture, we have to legitimately break the wheel. We cannot continuously keep working in a system where white supremacy, white patriarchal society, colonization, is alive and well. There are a lot of folks who do a lot of great work, but—you’ve been in Maine—the old guard doesn’t like change. They don’t like new Mainers coming in. They even oppose tourists coming into Maine and trying to enjoy themselves for the two months that we have summer. So, I think organizations, especially progressive organizations, need to hear individuals first. They need to sit down and truly hear them out. If you want to create macro change, you have to listen to young constituents that have new ideas, new powerful ideas and ways of working through this, who think outside the box, that can create real change. I’ve been doing this for the past eleven years now, ever since I got out of college. I’ve been working in this community trying to break that wheel.
We’ve been successful sometimes, failed at certain times too, but that’s part of the gig. What I would say is that Maine is definitely a life that is the way life should be, no faking about that, because the majority of people are welcoming. You can see that, when new Mainers from Somalia came. I recently heard there are new Mainers from Afghanistan coming as refugees. And the thing is, living here for thirty-plus years, the community has been welcoming to me, it will be welcoming to those new Mainers as well. Just because there are a few people, a small percentage, that are bad, do ridiculous things, who feel like they can, it doesn’t change the fact that Maine is a strong place. We have created more and more avenues, more diversity and inclusion. You can take a look at some of the high schools and colleges that have groups requiring racial inclusivity, diversity groups, groups that are challenging the system. The work has progressively gotten better and better. You have more and more young people who refuse to take a step back and are continuously moving forward, they not only feel what’s going on, but they make sure that the people around them, their loved ones, are listening. So I think that’s the most important thing to do: listen to BIPOC, gay, lesbian, trans folks, bi folks, queer folks, please listen to them. At the end of the day we all want to feel validated, accepted and safe.
TC: That’s a great way to end it, but do you have anything to add before we go?
TK: Just one thing. There is work to be done for sure. And I urge a lot of my fellow white friends, family, folks who are in the community to definitely do the work. There is a lot of internalization work you can do, good resources that are out there. There’s this workbook called “Me and White Supremacy.” It’s something I’ve also done in my personal time as a Brown man and I urge people to do it as well. Work on this workbook in your own time and just try it—it helps you understand that this is ancestral, this is trauma, this is what a lot of people and minorities go through every day.
And to the two individuals who did this to my car, I’d just like to let them know to be better.