05/08/2019

Statement in Response to BTV Vermont Police Brutality

Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington condemns the police brutality of the Burlington Police Department (BPD) – both the brutality shown in body camera footage released in the last week, and ongoing brutality that continues to go insufficiently recorded or documented. The footage from two police incidents on September 8th and September 9th, 2018 reveal unprovoked attacks by police officers on three Black men1. These assaults, along with the homicide of Douglas Kilburn at the hands of one of the involved officers2, make it clearer than ever that the BPD is bringing danger into our community. In fact the presence of officers Joseph Corrow, Jason Bellavance, and Cory Campbell still threatens the safety of our community today.

Police brutality is nothing new to the Burlington Police Department. We hold up these three officers, Corrow, Bellavance, and Campbell, as examples of the prevalence of violence and excessive use of force in BPD. Rather than being a few “bad apples,” they demonstrate a pattern of behavior that is indicative of not just the culture of violence and racial bias within the BPD, but also reflects that of the broader US culture. This pattern has resulted in similar incidents in other police departments across the nation, reflecting the deeper, unaddressed history of how the policing institution is an oppressive structure.

The legal system itself, which the police uphold, is designed to maintain the power dynamics that oppress primarily poor people of color in the United States. The first “police” in the United States included “slave patrols” who would chase down escaped slaves to return them to their white “owners.”3 Beyond the institution of slavery, examples include police upholding the “laws” by arresting Black people for things such as loitering, unemployment, and theft. Their forced labor was, and still is, used by the state in exploitative and dangerous convict leasing programs for state-owned and private companies.  

Although the narrative is that police are upholding laws to maintain an acceptable moral standard for society, this has never been the case and is certainly not the case today. Since the 1980s, the “War on Drugs” has given increasingly militarized police forces the license to search, seize, and turn over so-called offenders in the name of the law. Combined with the system of mass incarceration, this process has separated thousands of people from their families and communities, in addition to causing them bodily harm. This culture of white supremacy in which all US police officers are inevitably steeped becomes weaponized against black and brown people in moments of stress and escalation.

Here in Vermont, freedom is being legally taken away from people of color due to the over-policing, racial-profiling, inequitable detentions and court diversion options, as well as the “Rule of Law,” where multiple offenses lead to “no choice” arrests and prosecutions. There is little to no care or concern for the needs and wellness of “offenders,” including food, mental health, education, healing, and community restoration.  

The institution of the US police does not only kill and dehumanize marginalized groups and individuals repeatedly targeted by the police. Working for violently oppressive and dehumanizing systems harms and dehumanizes the officers themselves, as well as bystanders who witness violent police encounters. Just as the profession of coal mining often leads to severe illness, physical disability, and death, we argue that the profession of policing causes physical and mental harm, often resulting in unaddressed PTSD, domestic violence, and suicide4.  As such, our call is to take collective action to work toward minimizing the need for police officers, and ultimately eliminating the institution of police as we know it. Rather than working for reforms that embed police deeper in our society, such as more training and additional officers, we want police officers replaced with more social workers and other safer alternatives5.

Chief of Police Brandon Del Pozo argued in his press conference on May 3 that the BPD has taken more measures than other police departments to address excessive use of force and racial disparities in policing6. The measures he cited included implementing body cameras, as well as providing implicit bias and de-escalation training. Clearly, the additional training and equipment have not prevented violent encounters like the ones seen on the body camera footage from last September or the recent homicide of Douglas Kilburn. No amount of implicit bias or de-escalation training will change the role of the police or the effect of policing on targeted populations. More police officers, as Del Pozo has recommended, will not make our communities safer.

It is obvious to anyone watching the videos that body slamming, shoving, and forcing people to the ground is not morally acceptable. Although police have a position of power that allows them to commit violence legally, their consistent patterns of violence against poor people and people of color is not acceptable or justified. We cannot rely on the rule of law, which values “law and order” over human lives, to give us our moral code. We also cannot trust the laws to protect us from the people who enforce them. Instead, we must hold our community leaders accountable for introducing improved systems that truly achieve justice and do not rely on the broken system of policing.

In addition to the need for structural change, those of us who are not police officers or part of the legal “justice” system must commit to community advocacy to end police brutality, eliminate the need for policing as we know it, and implement alternatives that increase safety in our community.  We must all take responsibility for how we interact with these institutions and each other. This includes seeing and acknowledging the risk of violent and irreversible outcomes of calling the police, particularly for Black people, and “thinking twice” before making that call. We must consider, who is really in more danger? Because of local and national histories of abuse, it is necessary to instill and maintain a healthy suspicion of police departments. We know that we cannot abolish the police overnight. Therefore, our question is: what can be done now to ultimately help decrease the number of police and substitute healthier and safer alternatives for justice in our communities? Our demands are as follows:

  1. We demand the termination of Officers Cory Campbell, Jason Bellavance, and Joseph Corrow from the Burlington Police Department, as they are a threat to the safety of the community. They have displayed a pattern of violence without provocation or just cause, particularly targeted towards Black men.
  2. We demand these officers not be re-hired by another state or local department or agency in Chittenden County. Their abuse of power demonstrates that they are unsafe and should not be in any position of governmental authority in the county.
  3. We demand that all police operating in Chittenden County wear and consistently use body cameras, and that the free release of that footage to the public become mandatory. This includes the local police departments, the sheriff’s office, and the Vermont State Police that have jurisdiction over towns that do not have a local police force.
  4. We demand that the Burlington Police Department halt the hiring of new officers, and instead employ more social workers for the community. What our community needs is more support, not more violence. As the police officers of the BPD have shown an inability to de-escalate and an instinct of violence, their presence does not promote safety in our community.

Dear Community Members, please stand with us by signing this petition:
https://www.change.org/p/burlington-police-department-call-for-the-termination-of-burlington-police-officers-corrow-bellavance-and-campbell


1 https://www.sevendaysvt.com/OffMessage/archives/2019/05/03/violence-caught-on-camera-leads-to-brutality-claims-against-burlington-cops

2 https://vtdigger.org/2019/04/10/death-burlington-man-punched-police-officer-ruled-homicide/

3 https://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/brief-history-slavery-and-origins-american-policing

4 https://bluehelp.org/service/statistics/

5 https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/2017/05/12/burlington-expand-police-force-1st-time-15-years/101466726/

6 https://www.facebook.com/OneNorthAvenue/videos/616638715468895

press@blmgb.org http://www.blmgb.org/
03/20/2019

Call for Public Independent Inquiry Into Bennington Criminal Justice System

Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington is joining the ACLU of Vermont and over 20 other ally organizations, in calling for an independent inquiry into Bennington law enforcement.
The ACLU of Vermont and the NAACP organized this letter as part of an ongoing call for accountability and transparency by officials in the town of Bennington and others who have had a hand in investigating the threats made against Kiah Morris and her family. The letter calls for an through, transparent and independent inquiry by a law enforcement expert who can evaluate the circumstances surrounding this breakdown in this particular case, as well as the past and current policies and procedures within Bennington’s Police Department and criminal legal system.

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.

Sincerely,

ACLU of Vermont
AFT-VT
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
MoveOn Manchester
Middlebury Showing Up for Racial Justice
Migrant 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

press@blmgb.org http://www.blmgb.org/
12/05/2018

The Sanders Institute “Gathering”

An Open Letter from Vermont POC Racial Justice Community Organizers, Leaders, & Activists

Just 3 days ago, Tabitha Pohl-Moore and Steffen Guillom of the Rutland Area and Windham County NAACP Chapters, respectively, penned the following open letter that perfectly captures why we are continually working to “pop the bubble” of illusion that Vermont community and politics “has it figured out” when it comes to race. While Tabitha and Steffen penned the letter, it is the thought and feeling of many across the Green Mountain State. We hope this can be a call to action for the many well-meaning “progressives” throughout the state to walk the talk when it comes to organizing and building for true justice.

“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.”

Respectfully,

Tabitha Pohl-Moore
President, Rutland Area Branch of the NAACP

Steffen Glenn Gillom
President, Windham County Branch of the NAACP

Amanda Garces
Founder, Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools

Curtiss Reed, Jr.
Executive Director, Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity

Kiah Morris
Former State Representative

Katrina Battle
POC Caucus Coordinator, Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington

Jabari Jones
Organizer, Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington

Wafic Faour
Vermonters for Justice in Palestine
Member, BLM of Greater Burlington

Marita Canedo
Migrant Justice

Shela Linton
Co-Coordinator BIPOC Caucus, Root Social Justice Center

Sha’an Mouliert
Co-Coordinator, I am Vermont Too

Mark Hughes
Exectutive Director, Justice for All

Beverly Little Thunder
Activist, founder of Kunsi Keya Tamakoce, Peace and Justice Board Member

Gemma Seymour
Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future

Nico Amador
Community Organizer, ACLU of Vermont

​Etan Nassredin-Longo
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

press@blmgb.org http://www.blmgb.org/
12/05/2018

Solidarity with Migrant Justice

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!

press@blmgb.org http://www.blmgb.org/
11/21/2018

STATEMENT FROM THE WHITE CAUCUS FOR COLLECTIVE LIBERATION (AN ARM OF BLACK LIVES MATTER OF GREATER BURLINGTON)

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.

Contacts:
Drew Brooks, Coordinator, WCCL: drew@blmgb.org
Brian Clifford, Coordinator, WCCL: brian@blmgb.org
Sean Morrissey, Coordinator, WCCL: sean@blmgb.org
Emma Redden, Facilitator, WCCL: emma@blmgb.org

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