Action Alerts and Updates
Governor Phil Scott
109 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05609
Sent via email to:
Attorney General T.J. Donovan
109 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05609
March 18th, 2019
Re: Call for an independent and transparent inquiry into Bennington criminal justice system
Dear Governor Scott and Attorney General Donovan,
We, the undersigned organizations, are calling for a public inquiry into Bennington law enforcement practices following revelations that Bennington officials failed to disclose evidence directly related to the safety of Kiah Morris and her family to investigators with the Attorney General’s office.
Five months after the Attorney General declared a “breakdown in Bennington” and weeks after the revelations about evidence being withheld from investigations were made public, the people of Bennington are no closer to an understanding of exactly what happened, who in Bennington was aware of key evidence that had not been provided or acted on, or whether additional information was withheld from investigators. This is absolutely unacceptable.
The Town of Bennington has denied all wrongdoing, while at the same time agreeing to hire an outside law enforcement expert to investigate further. Any such investigation must be prompt, independent, transparent, and thorough. Additionally, it must encompass not only Bennington law enforcement’s policies and procedures, but also past and existing practices system-wide—including but not limited to Bennington PD. Anything less will be unacceptable.
Finally, because the Town of Bennington should not be given sole responsibility for an investigation of itself, we call for an additional, independent inquiry by state officials responsible for responding to allegations of bias and discrimination. In recent years, Vermont has passed multiple laws at addressing systemic racism – now is the time to show such initiatives were not merely symbolic and that the state is in fact committed to rooting out structural inequality and injustice wherever it exists.
ACLU of Vermont
Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington
Central Vermont Showing Up for Racial Justice
Constitutional Council of Accountability with Law Enforcement
Disability Rights Vermont
Elevate Justice 110
Fed Up Vermont
Green Mountain Crossroads
Green Mountain Solidarity with Palestine
Justice for All
LGBTQIA Alliance of Vermont
Middlebury Showing Up for Racial Justice
Peace & Justice Center
Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund
Rights & Democracy
Rutland Area NAACP
The Root Social Justice Center
Transition Town Manchester
Upper Valley Showing Up for Racial Justice
Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform
Vermonters for Justice in Palestine
Women’s March Vermont
Windham County NAACP
“Vermont is known as a progressive safe haven. However, some of our citizens struggle to connect personal experience to this sentiment. The purpose of publicizing these feelings is not to throw shade at the national progressive movement that Senator Bernie Sanders is trying to foster, but to point out that Vermonters in marginalized positions- be they poor, disabled, LGBTQ, people of color, indigenous, immigrant or non-mainstream in other facets of identity, help to create this state and make it what it is, yet still, we find ourselves excluded from the movement. This is an awkward juxtaposition. To call out when we have been excluded invariably elicits an accusation of sabotage, selfishness, or saltiness. To ignore it is to relegate ourselves to invisibility, thus fortifying the very systemic inequity the progressive movement works to deconstruct. It is with this in mind that I write the following:
At 9:15 PM on November 19th , Windham Area NAACP President Steffen Gillom sent me a text with a link to the VT Digger article announcing Senator Sanders’ 3-day progressive event in Burlington that was planned for this past week, it was followed by the question, “Did you know about this?” My first response was excitement. A progressive agenda that promised to raise an intersectional approach to ending injustice and oppression? In our backyard? As I read the roster and saw the names of my own idols like Cornel West, my initial response grew into hope. We would finally be heard and seen here in Vermont! But, as I neared the end of the star-laden roster, I began to wonder. How many leaders from Vermont were invited to speak? I reviewed the list again and saw only the name of Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman. Okay. One. Then I wondered how many justice leaders from Vermont had been invited. Racial? None. Economic? None. LGBTQ? None. Immigrant rights? None. I read the article several times. Maybe I missed something? I thought progressive politics was about lifting the voices of common people. For a group that prides itself on grassroots organization, it seemed that this progressive event had forgotten its roots; the people of Vermont.
My heart began to sink as my curiosity grew. In his remarks, Senator Sanders said that this event was “not just to talk about economic issues, we’re here this weekend to be talking about racial and social justice. We’re here to be talking about ending, in all of its many and varied forms, institutional racism.”
How could Senator Sanders host what is supposed to be an intersectional, progressive event without inviting the very people whom he serves? If this is really about economic justice, where are the poor folks? If it is really about racial justice, why are there no local racial justice leaders? Chief Don Stevens of the Abenaki? Disability rights? Where is Justicia Migrante? I don’t see them on the list.
I had a hard time believing that Senator Sanders would overlook the very people he serves as people who could speak to the issues. I also know that the Senator’s people had no problem finding me to talk about race in Vermont the day before he met with NAACP President Derrick Johnson last May. But really, there are plenty of other leaders who could speak. Surely someone in Vermont had to have been invited and they just weren’t included in the article because, really. Who here compares to Danny Glover? So I took to social media and posted the article, tagging various justice leaders that I knew. No one knew about it. I asked groups like Rights and Democracy, who posted an article to advertise the event, if they would be speaking. I heard nothing. Even Kiah Morris, who was Vermont’s lone black woman in the legislature—that is, until the racist threats and harassment became so intolerable and intimidating that she not only had to withdraw from an uncontested race, but she stepped down from office just three months ago—was not invited.
I write this not to complain about the fact that none of us were invited; I write this to point out the hypocrisy of the situation. How do you say that you are a person of the people, how can you be “awoken”, in the words of Victor Lee Lewis, when you come home to Vermont to talk about justice and institutional oppression and don’t invite the very people your represent? In speaking with other folks, I learned that I am not the only one who has noticed this omission. We hope that we are missing something, but if we are not, this is a either a major oversight or just one more example of how institutional oppression looks, even among those who are progressive.”
President, Rutland Area Branch of the NAACP
Steffen Glenn Gillom
President, Windham County Branch of the NAACP
Founder, Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools
Curtiss Reed, Jr.
Executive Director, Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity
Former State Representative
POC Caucus Coordinator, Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington
Organizer, Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington
Vermonters for Justice in Palestine
Member, BLM of Greater Burlington
Co-Coordinator BIPOC Caucus, Root Social Justice Center
Co-Coordinator, I am Vermont Too
Exectutive Director, Justice for All
Beverly Little Thunder
Activist, founder of Kunsi Keya Tamakoce, Peace and Justice Board Member
Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future
Community Organizer, ACLU of Vermont
Co-chair, Fair and Impartial policing committee of the Vermont State Police Chair, Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel
In peace, hope, love, and active, energized solidarity,
Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington
Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington stands in solidarity with Migrant Justice in the fight against ICE and Border Patrol. We recognize that their struggle is our struggle and we are united in this fight.
Our vision of the Greater Burlington area is one where black folks can thrive bodily, socially, and economically. This cannot become a reality as long as our comrades are being targeted, monitored, and deported. This cannot become a reality as long as immigrants are criminalized and terrorized by ICE, border patrol, and our militarized police force. We join Migrant Justice in demanding #Not1More deportation and an end to the targeting of immigrants.
The Black Lives Matter movement has its origins in part in the struggle against the over-policing and monitoring of black folks. As more police officers enter our schools, and more canines and tactical gear enter our police departments, one must ask: Who is it that they are hunting? This excessive and growing police presence, coupled with increasingly militarized officers in areas with higher black and brown populations in Vermont is a thinly-veiled tactic to oppress and control people of color in Vermont. Over-policing inevitably leads to racial profiling, violence, and over-incarceration, leaving us with 1 in 14 black men and a disproportionate number of hispanic and latino people incarcerated in Vermont.
Greg Zullo was left on the side of the road in Rutland to walk 8 miles home after a stop the officer claimed was for a registration sticker hidden by snow. Eli Calvo Cruz was accosted by ICE while standing outside of a gas station and was put back at risk of being deported after an immigration judge agreed that he posed no danger to his community and should not be deported. Meanwhile Christopher Hayden, who has a history of racially motivated aggravated assault, continues to directly threaten the wellbeing of people of color right here in the Greater Burlington area without accountability.
Law enforcement in Vermont consistently dehumanize people of color while forgiving and protecting violent and racist white people. Officers cannot operate in a racially just manner when our policing system has never strayed from its roots of returning the contraband of escaped slaves to their white “owners.” And to arm those within that system under the myth of objectivity, in a society steeped in racialized oppression, is something not even the best implicit bias “training” can overcome.
The criminalization of people of color in Vermont will not stop without a struggle. Migrant Justice has stopped deportations and freed immigrants from detention, fought tirelessly to hold dairy farm owners accountable to safer working conditions through the Milk with Dignity Campaign, worked towards the separation of the police from border patrol and ICE, and more. We support their work in fighting for the liberation of immigrants in Vermont.
We call on folks to stand in solidarity with Migrant Justice and demand #Not1More deportation and an end to the targeting of immigrants that is based in racism, xenophobia, and hatred because no human is illegal!
The White Caucus for Collective Liberation condemns the recent and ongoing harassment of Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington People of Color Caucus organizer Jabari Jones by Burlington area white supremacist Christopher Hayden. Mr. Hayden has been using various tactics to threaten Mr. Jones’ safety and livelihood. During his well-documented history of harassment, intimidation, and violent assault, Hayden has targeted Vermont legislators, the Mayor of Burlington, and People of Color on Church Street. Hayden has been arrested for simple assault, charged with disturbing the peace with a hate crime enhancement multiple times, and continues to harrass Mr. Jones at his place of work via threatening phone calls regardless of the “No Trespass” order against him.
For many people of color, Vermont can be a hostile place to live. Under the guise of free speech, area white supremacists harass people of color in our community by leaving threatening flyers which promote white supremacy culture on people’s front doors. We have seen white supremacy culture rear its ugly head again and again in this community and in this state. Vermont State Representative Kiah Morris decided to step down from elected office due to death threats she continued to receive. Former Rutland mayor Chris Louras was voted out of office after formalizing a plan to assist in relocating Syrian refugees to Rutland. White supremacy group Patriot Front holds meetings in Vermont regularly without repudiation. The neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen spread flyers throughout Brattleboro this past summer. Local resident Sheldon Rheaume’s recent display of violence in Essex, VT was racially motivated. Vermont remains overwhelmingly white for a reason.
We, white people, accountable to people of color, are working towards a future where the Greater Burlington Area can be a place where all Black people can thrive bodily, socially, and economically. We are working to transform our community for our collective liberation, accountable to people of color, and with the increased use of political education and healing justice to embody a future where People of Color can thrive in Vermont. There is a clear racist, white supremacist culture present in Vermont. We must work to dismantle this culture and the systems that perpetuate it, through intentional, active organizing, as well as relationship building.
White Vermonters, we are calling on you. Face the reality that our community is unsafe for People of Color. You can no longer ignore the hatred and violence that exists on your streets and in your neighborhoods. Condemn this hatred, racism, and bigotry in our community. Actively resist through sustained and accountable organizing. Join us in dismantling the white supremacist culture and institutionalized racism so potent and present here in Vermont.
Drew Brooks, Coordinator, WCCL: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Clifford, Coordinator, WCCL: email@example.com
Sean Morrissey, Coordinator, WCCL: firstname.lastname@example.org
Emma Redden, Facilitator, WCCL: email@example.com
Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington is adding their voice to the national rallies in support of ending family separation. While we cannot attend the rally today, we want to add our voices to the call locally and nationally to end cruel, inhumane family separation practices.
Our goal is to address institutional racism and racial disparities at all levels of Vermont society including policing, education, employment, and government representation. We want to ensure that Vermonters of color, like all Vermonters, enjoy their freedom, justice, and peace uninhibited.
The Black Lives Matter Global Network has said that as a pro-Black, pro-Queer, anti-fascist organization in a nation populated by immigrants of all races, creeds, and colors, including Black immigrants from every country, ripping children out of their parent’s arms does nothing to keep us or this country safe.
The current Administration is enacting a racist, nationalistic, ugly policy. We protest the treatment of asylum seekers at the border, the treatment of vulnerable immigrant populations being targeted by ICE, and the treatment of Vermont citizens who are having their children taken away from their homes, all of whom are victims of a cruel and inhumane injustice.
Family separation affects our poor and working poor, our new american families, and asylum seekers at the borders. We see how family separation is a persistent issue that affects Vermonters locally. And how black and brown folks of all nationalities and citizenship statuses are disproportionately affected by systematic family separation practices.
This is happening every day, here, and now.
Some of these practices have become commonplace and palatable in the eyes of our society. This is unacceptable, and it’s not just something that happens “everywhere but here.” In Vermont, this is especially clear in the prevalence of the school to prison pipeline. The school to prison pipeline is the disproportionate tendency of minors and young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds to become incarcerated, because of increasingly harsh school and municipal policies. Right here in Burlington, the School Board has shared statistics that while black students only make up 14% of Burlington High School’s population, they make up more than 30% of the students being suspended.
This pipeline is a toxic system that begins with suspension, leads to expulsion, often bringing in the involvement of the Vermont Department for Children and Families, and results in children ultimately being removed from their families. The systemic practice of separating Vermont families can also be witnessed in the number of cases where parents and guardians are afflicted with a mental illness or the disease of addiction. Often, these cases are connected, perpetuating the cycle of broken families, broken homes, and broken communities. We have seen this, we know these families, we hear their pain. We should be working collaboratively to build up our communities, engaging with families and supporting them through their hardships. But instead children are still being removed from their homes. And at what cost? What long-lasting issues might they be faced with as a result of this?
This too needs your attention, this too needs your disgust and your passion.
We call on folks to stand together, in solidarity, to end cruel family separation practices, for all of us. If you want to continue to work to preserve families locally and stand up against racist, xenophobic, and inhumane practices, we call on you to join us!