There has been an aggressive and persistent political assault across this nation (including Vermont), fueled with race baiting and based in white nationalism . At the same time Vermont, not unlike the rest of the nation is undergirded in systemic racism and challenged with overt racism. 40 Days of Fire is a statewide racial justice community organizing initiative designed for two purposes: to electorize the fight against the current use of racial dog whistles in discourse and debate by educating and empowering folks to break their silence and; to enlist Vermonters to learn more about and engage in our ongoing efforts in the fight against overt and systemic racism in Vermont.
This joint effort by Justice For All and Rights and Democracy is offering folks in all communities across the state an opportunity to host and participate in training and empowerment sessions, conduct workshops, register to vote and participate in voter engagement opportunities as well as directly confront candidates and elected officials on the issues of racial justice and the rights of those in traditionally marginalized communities.
Race, politics and policy: The Making of a Nation
The State of Vermont: Systemic (and overt) racism across the state
Breakout: Addressing overt and systemic racism in Vermont
Strategy to call out and take a stand against racial pandering in politics
’40 Days of Fire’ to Address Overt and Systemic Racism Across Vermont
Racial Justice Community Organizing Campaign Kicks Off in October in 5 Locations –
Contact: Stephanie Gomory, Justice For All Executive Director: 802.532.3030
Montpelier, VT — 40 Days of Fire, a joint effort by Justice for All and Rights and Democracy, is a statewide racial justice community organizing initiative kicking off in October. Events held all over the state will enlist Vermonters to learn more about and engage in our ongoing efforts in the fight against overt and systemic racism in Vermont. We will also mobilize voters to take a stand against racial pandering and dog whistles in politics.
The 40 Days of Fire initiative offers Vermonters in all communities an opportunity to host and participate in training and empowerment sessions, conduct workshops, register to vote and participate in voter engagement opportunities, and directly confront candidates and elected officials on the issues of racial justice and the rights of those in traditionally marginalized communities.
All are welcome to the following organizing sessions planned so far (RSVP at the links):
Burlington, October 2– Ruach haMaqom Synagogue, 6:30 – 8:30 .PM
Middlebury, October 4 – Fenn House at Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, 6:00-8:00 PM
Hardwick, October 9 – St. Norbert’s Church Hall, 6:00 – 8:00 PM
Hartford, October 14 – Main Street Museum, 3:00-5:00 PM
Marshfield, October 17 –Twinfield Union School, 6:00-8:00 PM
Slavery has never been constitutionally abolished anywhere in this country. This year, the Racial Justice Reform Coalition asked the senate to “urge the 2019 senate” by resolution to amend the constitution, removing slavery. Despite adopting S.R.11, which urged the 2019 senate to introduce an ERA amendment, they refused to introduce a resolution urging the removal of slavery from the constitution this year. Afterwards the house introduced a resolution (H.R.25) urging the 2019 senate to take up such slavery amendment. House Operations never took it up. Stop. Think. Why do you think folks don’t know this?
Although we have every indication that this will likely be one of the first priorities of the senate next year, it is short sited to suggest that this is “one of the last vestiges of slavery” in our laws. The constitution, originally written on 1777 and amended 28 times is largely the same document and it was not written for black and brown people (it had them in mind). Dismantling systemic racism takes more than changing the constitution. Unraveling all of the language that has and continues to create and sustain white supremacy is a full time job. But what about all of the rules, statutes, court decisions and institutions upheld by the constitution? To change the constitution without this discussion misses the institutionalized racial impact of the constitution and keeps us form a methodical dismantling of the affect.
Why don’t our lawmakers have an open debate on this language in the constitution? Why wouldn’t the press want to cover it, at least to the level of healthcare? Among other things, a good constitutional debate on how we classify our inmates would do us well. Do we, as Vermonters really want to continue to consider our inmates as “slaves”? How do we treat them? How and where do we house them? What do we pay them? How do we profit from their labor (Vermont Corrections Industries)? The constitutional slavery debate is one that must ask tough questions like “why do we continue to teach our children that we were the first state to abolish slavery?” And “what other falsehoods are we teaching them?” The debate about slavery is one that should question our culpability in transporting these “slaves to other states. And yes, how does the threat of prison slavery impact 1500 brown bodies that uphold a white man’s dairy industry on a daily basis?
Indeed one of the oldest and nastiest debates in national history has been how white people have responded when morality, profit and labor collide. Perhaps if we were to have this debate we could have conversations about how well white folks have historically performed with that collision. This might give us the ability to candidly acknowledge the political and economic power that came (and continues come) from the exploitation of the labor of black and brown people. This would further enable discussions on the false narratives of black and brown inferiority created to sell the sham to others. We could also engage in open discourse on how those decisions continue to impact black and brown people and communities today. Who knows, a good debate might shed some light on existing practices that sustain white supremacy and maybe even head off a future train wreck or two. It might be pushing it but imagine this debate shining a light on those who refuse to call shenanigans as they benefit from the product of the exploitation of black and brown bodies, all while somehow expressing their hollow so called sorrow for those that they watch exploited.
Our elected officials have been taking an oath to this constitution forever. Not knowing that the language was there is probably worse than knowing and doing nothing. So now we turn to the outpouring of concern surrounding the overt racism that forced Kiah’s resignation. As real as that is, there is little discussion on the systemic racism that impacts 31K black and brown Vermonters (on a daily basis) and without a doubt contributed to Kiah’s fate. Legislators should stop congratulating themselves on the Act 9 and Act 54 from this biennium and acknowledge the uphill battle that it took and the important components of this legislation that never saw the light of day.
I try not to miss an opportunity to mention to white people that I have never met a white person that doesn’t have a racist in their family. Lately, I’ve added that I have never met a white person who hasn’t silently witnessed oppression of black and brown people. I say it. I wait. I suppose now I will just leave them with one last question after positioning the first two. “Why is this?
Join us in a session on abolishing constitutionalized slavery in Vermont at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier tonight from 6:00 till 8:00 PM.
Racial hate and the systemic response to it (or lack thereof) are what recently forced an African American political candidate to withdraw her candidacy. Our constitution says that “Every person within this state ought to find a certain remedy, by having recourse to the laws, for all injuries or wrongs which one may receive in person, property or character; every person ought to obtain right and justice, freely, and without being obliged to purchase it; completely and without any denial; promptly and without delay; comformably to the laws.” As we have throughout all history, we stand awaiting a remedy yet again but all we get it silence.
Yes. Racial hatred remains an issue in Vermont and across the nation. As ridiculous and unfortunate as this situation is, at least it shines a light on a reality that exists in the everyday lives of over 31thousand black and brown folks across the state. The OTHER racism which has a much more harmful global impact is systemic racism. Black and brown people are being left out or left behind in the areas of housing, education, employment, health services, economic development and criminal justice EVERY DAY! The final racism is political in nature and the edifice of policy violence. The current stream of racial inflammatory rhetoric and the Trump administration’s decision to overtly run a campaign on it is stoking the flames.
The Governor and his entire staff conducted operations from Bennington; ground zero of the activities surrounding the hate triggered campaign withdrawal. There was not a peep from the administration about the overt racist acts and the systemic response that caused the pullout. The Governor’s racially mute visit to Bennington in the middle of this horrific sequence of events goes far beyond him having blind spot or tone deafness. As an African American in Vermont, it is an arrogant slap in the face. Silence.
As a result of my direct involvement I could go on for pages with all of the obstacles that the Scott administration has deployed to block our attempts at legislative efforts to address overt and systemic racism in Vermont. The so-called progressive legislature has also throttled some of these efforts with the use of procedure and the skillful crafting of language to block significant portions of racial justice reform proposals. The press continues to struggle to responsibly capture and appropriately contextualize the struggle and the historical significance of the legislative work that is being done surrounding racial justice. An example is the lack of coverage in 2018 of H.R.25, the first effort to remove slavery from the constitution in Vermont history! Silence.
Governor Scott just reappointed an attorney specializing in law enforcement defense to the State Police Advisory Commission. The Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council broke the newly created law (ACT54) by changing the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy without consulting the Human Rights Commission in November 2017. The Chair and Vice-Chair (myself) of the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel resigned in March of this year. Silence.
The biggest threat that black and brown Vermonters face today is white silence, because with it comes complicit consent to escalation of overt hate. With this silence black and brown folks will continue to be locked up and locked out as white folks choose to look the other way, pretending to believe the age-old false claims of the inalienable rights of all men. With this silence officials will be elected who in turn create policies with the intent of hurting black and brown people but the majority of the folks impacted will once again be white folks (Because while most black people are poor, most poor people are white).
People of color pleaded with the neo-liberal progressive white folk to break the silence in 2016. Black and brown folks even comforted white people and welcomed them to the struggle on November 9th. Two years later many white people have either normalized, become complicit or have grown numb. Throughout all history white people have ignored the fact that they are directly responsible for the policy violence directed at black folks, which hurts us more but hurts more of you. White folks, save the heart of this nation so the United States of America can for once be one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. Break your silence.
The ongoing campaign of racial hate being directed at Kiah Morris and her family resulted in her deciding to withdraw her candidacy for House Representatives last week. Racial hatred remains an issue in Vermont and across the nation. As ridiculous and unfortunate as this situation is, at least it shines a light on a reality that exists in the everyday lives of over 31thousand black and brown folks across the state. The OTHER racism which has a much more harmful global impact is systemic racism. Black and brown people are being left out or left behind in the areas of housing, education, employment, health services, economic development and criminal justice EVERY DAY! The final racism is political in nature and the edifice of policy violence. The current stream of racial inflammatory rhetoric and the administration’s decision to overtly run a campaign on it is stoking the flames.
The biggest threat the nation faces today is white silence, because with it comes complicit consent to escalation of overt hate, resulting in violence in our communities. With this silence black and brown folks will continue to be locked up and locked out as white folks choose to look the other way, pretending to believe the age-old false claims of the inalienable rights of all men. With this silence officials will be elected who in turn create policies with the intent of hurting black and brown people but the majority of the folks impacted will once again be white folks (because while most black people are poor, most poor people are white). People of color pleaded with the neo-liberal progressive white folk to break the silence in 2016. Black and brown folks even comforted white people and welcomed them to the struggle on November 9th. What will it take for white people to come to understand that if we are to save the heart of this nation, they must break their silence?
Justice For All
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Representative Morris withdrew her nomination for State Legislator over the weekend! Representative Morris, her Husband James and their son Jamal have been the targets of extremely hateful attacks since she took office four years ago. Unpacking this means examining everything from how law enforcement, the general public, the press and her fellow legislators have chosen to respond.
The criminal justice system is fairly consistent about failing black and brown people and this is no exception. In the same way the burden of proof is overwhelmingly on people of color when police are responding to an alleged crime committed by us (or perhaps just our presence), it falls squarely on us when we are the victims. It becomes a matter of “public safety” when whites feel “uncomfortable” but when an African American is looking for justice we invariably need “more proof”.
As the sponsor of H.492 (Act 54), Kiah was instrumental in the formation of the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel: the Panel (agency heads) that threw the Chair and Vice-chair (myself) under the bus and tossed out the work accomplished over the first 6 months. Act 54 is the same law that the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council snubbed when they changed the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy without Human Rights Commission review in November 2017 to enable them to receive a 500K grant.
But this is not a surprise to our legislators because the senior leadership has remained silent, as we have informed them of policy implementation violence as it has occurred. This is the legislature that refused to take up language expanding the HRC or making racial profiling illegal this year. The senate refused to introduce a resolution to (next year) amend the Vermont constitution to remove slavery. The House introduced it but wouldn’t take it up. Though this is the House’ first call for the Senate to amend the Constitution (by removing slavery) since 1777 in all likelihood your are reading/hearing this for the first time (H.R.25, 2018). This leads us to the press, but I’ll stop there because if you don’t see it by now, you just don’t’ want to see it.
Folks across the state are expressing their surprise and outrage at this turn of events. Please stop it. It exacerbates the problem when you continuously express shock and amazement at each manifestation of its existence. Systemic (and overt) racism are just as present (if not more) in Vermont as they are in any other part of the United States. The point is that as unfortunate as this is, to treat it as an isolated event misses the point. The root of this is systemic racism in Vermont and the fact that never in state history has anyone really taken a wholehearted effort to address it. The question is what, if anything can be done to once and for all cause white people to understand that it is morally wrong to trade the lives of black and brown and poor people for political and economic power?
On August 21st prisoner rebels across the country will refuse to keep the prison machinery running and demand an end to prison slavery. On the outside, we’re busy spreading the word, organizing solidarity demos and more.
Men and women incarcerated in prisons across the nation declare a nationwide strike in response to the riot in Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina. Seven comrades lost their lives during a senseless uprising that could have been avoided had the prison not been so overcrowded from the greed wrought by mass incarceration, and a lack of respect for human life that is embedded in our nation’s penal ideology. These men and women are demanding humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery.
These are the NATIONAL DEMANDS of the men and women in federal, immigration, and state prisons:
1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.
2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.
3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.
4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.
5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.
6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.
7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.
8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.
9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.
10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count!
We all agree to spread this strike throughout the prisons of Ameri$$$a! From August 21st to September 9th, 2018, men and women in prisons across the nation will strike in the following manner:
1. Work Strikes: Prisoners will not report to assigned jobs. Each place of detention will determine how long its strike will last. Some of these strikes may translate into a local list of demands designed to improve conditions and reduce harm within the prison.
2. Sit-ins : In certain prisons, men and women will engage in peaceful sit – in protests.
3. Boycotts: All spending should be halted. We ask those outside the walls not to make financial judgments for those inside. Men and women on the in side will inform you if they are participating in this boycott.
4. Hunger Strikes: Men and women shall refuse to eat.
We support the call of Free Alabama Movement Campaign to “Redistribute the Pain” 2018 as Bennu Hannibal Ra – Sun, formerly known as Melvin Ray has laid out (with the exception of refusing visitation). See these principles described here:
Over the last several days, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS) has had numerous conversations. The JLS mailbox has been packed with correspondence from prisoners around the nation. As prisoners, it’s clear we are all on the same page. So are the prisoncrats overseeing the prison-industrial slave complex.
An organizing tool for the upcoming 2018 prison strike, this zine includes a spirited endorsement, important background on the lead up to this strike and lessons shared by prisoner rebels to keep in mind with this new round of coordinated resistance.
40 Days of Fire is a statewide racial justice community organizing campaign designed to educate and empower folks to participate in this important work in Vermont. This means amplifying our message, increasing our efforts in community outreach and education and organizing folks for action. We are also registering voters across the state. Please support the 40 Days of Fire campaign here and help us set this state on fire.
Act 9 – An act relating to racial equity in State government
On June 28 the Governor signed S.5, creating Act 9 of the Special Session. Act 9 is a landmark accomplishment in Vermont, being the first legislative mandate creating an apparatus to mitigate systemic racism across all state government in Vermont. The act creates a new five-year position of Executive Director of Racial Equity within the Executive Branch and tasks the position with identifying and working to eradicate systemic racism within State government. It also creates the Racial Equity Advisory Panel to work with the Executive Director of Racial Equity to implement reforms. Justice For All, other Racial Justice Reform Coalition member organizations and community members, invested countless hours in this grass root effort. Legislators and the Governor’s Office also worked under extraordinary conditions to get this law passed. Read more on Act 9 here.
Act 9 Implementation
The Governor issued Executive Order 04-18 when he vetoed S.281 (predecessor of S.5 in the regular session). Executive Order18-04 is bad news. It was issued on a false premise (S.281 being unconstitutional) AND it undermines the original intent of the systemic racism mitigation legislation. Go here and learn more and join in in asking the Governor to rescind Executive Order 04-18.
There is no centralized function that is communicating general information on how to apply to be a member of the panel; which entities have made those appointments or who has been appointed. Follow one or all of these links to submit to one of the Racial Equity Advisory Panel member appointing entities.
Time is of the essence. Members must be appointed on or before September 1, 2018.
The statute indicates that the “Panel shall have the administrative, legal, and technical support of the Agency of Administration.” Contact the Agency of Administration and ask them to assist in the implementation of Act 9 by providing the community the service of communication and updates on progress of panel appointments and future activity.
Act 54 – An act relating to the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel
Act 54 consists of three components. The first component, the Advisory Panel, established within the Office of the Attorney General, is comprised of 13 members, including five members appointed by the Attorney General to represent the interests of communities of color. The Advisory Panel has been meeting for about one year. Numerous meetings were conducted and various committees were formed. Follow-on activity included committee reports, further panel deliberations and draft report reviews. Specific feedback from panel members was incorporated into the report and the draft report was updated. With calls for additional material content concerns yielding only concerns surrounding process and having requested two legislative extensions,the Chair received permission from the Assistant Attorney General to release the report as a report of the Chair and the Vice-Chair. on March 2nd, 2018. What followed was accusations and mischaracterizations levied by agency head panel members alleging “ostensible” submission and “self-serving” intent. The Chair and Vice-chair resigned upon submission the report.
With no vote on any recommendation in the report, and not offering the former Chair any material concern, all of the previous recommendations have been discarded and the process has been reinitiated. Upon reviewing Panel minutes last month we noticed comments surrounding three of the 17 recommendations. It was however only the newly appointed community Panel members who raised questions on recommendations (none of agency representatives). The former Chair and Vice-Chair have reached out to the Chair for answers, encouraging him to salvage recommendations. Contact the Panel Chair and the Attorney General and let them know that we expect that they would publicly deliberate the original work of the panel to enable the general public to understand the agency head’s objections to the specific recommendations.
The second component of Act 54 is the Attorney General and Human Rights Commission Task Force. The legislation requires the Attorney General and Human Rights Commission, along with interested stakeholders, to develop a strategy to address racial disparities within the State systems of education, labor and employment, access to housing and health care, and economic development. The “Task Force” Report was released on 15 December 2017.
Task Force Implementation
Input submitted from the Stakeholder’s “Horizontal Group” was omitted from the report. Given the definition of “systemic racism”, the global centric recommendations from this group of stakeholders should clearly be a linchpin in the process. As a result, the report on whole provided little in terms of novel approaches to address systemic racism across all state systems. The focus was more on linking legacy activities designed to address overt racism. Read the report here and contact the HRC or AG’s Office to press to incorporate ALL of the stakeholders input, modify the report as appropriate and ensure there are provisions for accountability.
The final component of Act 54 is the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy (FIPP). The legislation required the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council (VCJTC) and the Attorney General’s Office to bring the existing FIPP into compliance with immigration law and the VCJTC to create a cohesive FIPP. VCJTC is also required to update the policy biannually and the Attorney General and VCJTC must review agency policies and correct noncompliance as appropriate. The FIPP was negotiated and revised, reviewed by the AG to ensure compliance with federal immigration statutes, revised again and adopted by the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council. All agencies are under legislative mandate to adopt the FIPP and the Policies of all agencies should have been reviewed in April.
Inconstant with process outlined in Act 54, the VCJTC unilaterally changed the FIPP (without the consultation of the Human Rights Commission) in November of 2017, in response to a threat from the US DOJ and to secure Community Oriented Policing grant valued at over five hundred thousand dollars for state police (additional funding for other agencies). Neither legislative leadership nor the Attorney General’s Office has taken any action in response. Reach out to your legislator and express your concern and disappointment that law enforcement “sold out” by usurping the updating process that protects the integrity of this document that serves to protects the lives of black and brown people. Email and demand answers from legislative leadership as to why this was allowed to occur and what they will be doing to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
H.R.25 – House Resolution encouraging the Senate of the State of Vermont in 2019 to initiate a proposal for a State constitutional amendment to remove from the Vermont Constitution all language authorizing slavery or indentured servitude
The challenge of the state of Vermont’s constitution containing reference to slavery is older than the state itself. The implications, as across all of the United States is that this state was not established nor the existing systems implemented for black and brown people. The work of Justice For All started in the criminal justice system but we have come to understand as Act 54 and Act 9 seek to address, systemic racism is at our foundation and pervasive throughout society. Black and brown people are at incredibly severe disadvantages as we seek gainful employment and suitable housing. Our access to quality health services and education is systematically impeded and the justice system has always produced disparate outcomes for black and brown people. This country has always been the epitome of white imperialism and supremacy, a nation where political and economic power resides with white people. As we continue this work and identify and dismantle systemic racism in every aspect of society, we are reminded that it was once said ” …We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Later this declaration goes on to say “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…” It is time that we alter this form of government to ensure our safety and happiness. Donate to 40 Days of Fire here:
The 14th Amendment sought out in an attempt to ensure that the “truths” that were asserted to be “self evident” 92 years earlier became a reality for African Americans. It was only as a result of the reconstitution of southern governments (inclusion of African Americans) that the 14th Amendment was ultimately ratified. This would be only partial and short-lived. Whites later rallied behind the Democratic Party, which promised a return of white control (and supremacy). The Ku Klux Klan used violence and intimidation to assist southern Democrats in winning elections. By the 1870s, most southern governments were Democratic controlled. In 1877 in a “Compromise” to settle the hotly contested election (Hayes/Tilden), Hayes was given the White House in exchange for the federal troops pulling out of the south (effectively ending reconstruction). The withdrawal of federal troops from the South in 1877 enabled white southern Democrats to reverse many of the political and social gains African-Americans had realized and ushered us into the proliferation of lynching, black laws, convict leasing and the era of Jim Crow. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was even overturned and deemed “unconstitutional” in 1883!
Over the years, the 14th Amendment has served as the foundation for Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which struck down racial segregation (overturning Plessy v. Furguson) and Loving v. Virginia (1967), which deemed the prohibition of interracial marriage unconstitutional. It is however more widely known for undergirding decisions like Roe v. Wade (1973) which legalized abortion, Bush v. Gore (2000) which gave the presidential election to George W. Bush, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) which constitutionalized same-sex marriage. Notably, there was a conscious decision by the Supreme Court to avoid the use of the 14th Amendment in support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Between 1890 and 1910, 14th Amendment cases involving corporations vastly outnumbered those involving the rights of blacks, 288 to 19.
The 14th Amendment has often been cited in defending cases calling for the elimination of affirmative action (particularly in colleges and universities), introducing so-called reverse discrimination. From Fisher v. Texas to, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, numerous attempts have been made to do so. In early July, 2018, this administration rolled back the affirmative action guidelines for colleges and universities. The brief filings in the “Students for Fair Admission, INC., v. Harvard “ litigation” (reverse discrimination) are due at the end of this month while the President is poised to seat yet another Supreme Court Justice. The 14th Amendment stands at the intersection of overturning Roe v. Wade AS WELL as Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (college admission affirmative action).
Race and racism has been used throughout all history to obtain and sustain political and economic power. The turmoil and adversity leading to the ratification of the 14th Amendment was severe and the price high. It came at the cost of the lives of countless African Americans and the obliteration of their history and the hopes of their future. It came as at the cost of the most horrific and bloodiest war in United States history. The 14th Amendment is yet another example of efforts that have been made throughout all history to right that which has been wronged. It along with all other efforts has been faced with white backlashes of increasing violence and complexity. And once again, adding insult to injury is that the 14th Amendment today serves as just another tool that was designed to make things better but was co opted to make things worse.
Happy Sesquicentennial, 14th Amendment!
Justice For All
Racial Justice Reform Coalition
Open Letter to: The Chair of the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel.
This communication is to address the specific Act 54 Report content related concerns expressed by the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel. The report was submitted by the former Chair and Co-chair on March 2nd, 2018. Despite our numerous requests, the Panel has brought no concern surrounding content to our direct attention to date. Recently we discovered concerns in the Panel June Minutes. These concerns (requested five months ago) are seemingly being represented as the premise of the committee’s overwhelming rejection of ALL of the recommendations in the report. This being the case, it would have been appropriate and responsible for the Panel to enable the former Chair and Vice-chair to provide clarity surrounding any concerns expressed about recommendations in the report. The decision to abandon a year of work is one that should be made with due diligence and facts not “emotion” and politics.
First, (as indicated immediately following or resignations) the report released on March 2nd by the Chair and the Vice Chair was not represented as the report of the full panel at the time of submission. After multiple requests for specific concerns surrounding the content of the report, the only feedback offered has been concerns surrounding process. After two submission extensions, we requested the Attorney General’s opinion on the prospect of the Chair and Vice-chair submitting the report on our own behalf. With the Assistant Attorney General having no objection, we submitted the report. The accusations and mischaracterizations levied by panel members alleging “ostensible” submission and “self-serving” intent were inappropriate, harmful and inexcusable. Some whom have levied these attacks have yet to attend one meeting since the inception of the Panel. Your attention is invited to the “Process” section of the report submitted:
The Process and Scope
“The Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel has held six meetings in as many months. Rules of engagement were disseminated in the Panel, which adopted generally agreed upon “Guiding Principles”. The Panel developed subcommittees on Public Complaint Process, Racial Profiling and Data Collection. The Committees each had a series of meetings and reported back to the Chair. The Panel then reviewed and discussed the draft report, prior to its final release. Upon completion of discussions and collection of data, the Chair and the Vice Chair, with concurrence of the Attorney General, created the report.
A number of members of the Panel expressed “process” concerns regarding the method chosen by the Chair to produce this report. The Chair and Vice Chair have also been accused of seeking to release a report in the interest of “advancing their own personal agendas”. We will not dignify this age-old tactic of attacking the character of good people when a system of oppression feels as though it is threatened. This report is being submitted by the Chair and Vice Chair to ensure that a report on addressing the systemic racism in the criminal justice system is not meeting the agendas of those who are a part of the system, once again.”
The list of concerns (taken from the meeting minutes) is as follows:
“Uncomfortable with the suggestion to push funds to the CJCs because this could be perceived as a conflict of interest given the fact that the prior panel chair works for them.”
This premise suggests that none of the panel members (particularly agency heads) have what could be personal or professional conflicting interests. Further, the Chair’s Reentry work at the CJC has no association with what would be a Racial Discrimination Reporting process. Finally, the Chair resigned from the CJC in February 2018 (prior to the time the report was released).
“Utility of new system if there’s already reporting for each department”
The Panel had an open discussion about centralized data collection. There is currently no system in place that aggregates and correlates all collected race related data for high impact decisions across ALL agencies. The need to do so is supported by the fact that the race data currently collected by law enforcement fails to serve the essence of the legislative intent because it is largely invisible and unusable to the general public. Further, the implementation of such centralized race data collection; correlation and presentation platform would provide economies of scale, ultimately providing savings to agencies across the state.
“Didn’t agree with making racial profiling a crime.”
The Subcommittee on Racial Profiling agreed by vast majority that Racial Profiling should be illegal but could not agree upon language. Our research and discussion with attorneys including the Assistant Attorney General, the Executive Director of the Human Rights Commission and former Director of the Human Rights Commission and Defender General indicated that the assertion that “racial profiling is already illegal” is somewhat of a misnomer. The Human Rights Commission’s jurisdiction over public accommodations in conjunction with the inclusion of race as one of their protected categories by default encompasses what would be considered “racial profiling” (civil). Unfortunately, the precedent for public roadways is vulnerable in that it is only a Superior Court Decision. The ACLU Policy Attorney indicated that racial profiling is currently illegal in 30 states, but expressed concern about making racial profiling Illegal.
The Report did not follow “Statutory Structure”
3 V.S.A. § 168 clearly defines the responsibilities of the Panel as follows:
Continually reviewing the data collected pursuant to 20 V.S.A. § 2366
Recommendations to the Criminal Justice Training Council and the Vermont Bar Association
Educating and engaging with communities, businesses, educational institutions, State and local governments, and the general public
Monitoring progress on the recommendations from the 2016 report of the Attorney General’s Working Group on Law Enforcement Community Interactions
On or before January 15, 2018, and biennially thereafter, reporting to the General Assembly, and providing as a part of that report recommendations to address systemic implicit bias in Vermont’s criminal and juvenile justice system, including:
How to institute a public complaint process to address perceived implicit bias across all systems of State government;
Whether and how to prohibit racial profiling, including implementing any associated penalties;
Whether to expand law enforcement race data collection practices to include data on non-traffic stops by law enforcement.”
Below is a screen shot from a portion of the report
A screenshot of the table content of the, report below maps to the legislative reporting as well as all other elements of the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Advisory Panel charge.
The “stat about things worsening in Chittenden County in 2016 is not supported by evidence.”
The report did NOT discuss Chittenden County specifically in this context. The report stated, “Numerous race date reports have been released over the last number of years, all indicating racial disparities. In 2016, the data indicated that problem was worsening.” (p.11)
In 2016, the data DID indicate the problem was worsening. Reporting was released in 2016, the latest year reported was actually 2015, NOT 2016 and there is indeed empirical data indicating that the problem worsened over this period. We will ensure that our report provides clarity to this misunderstanding. Reference data provided:
It should seriously concern the community that after five months the Panel has delivered us NO content concerns; from Minute reports, only three of the 17 recommendations are being challenged; ONLY newly Attorney General appointed community Panel members have raised questions on recommendations (none of agency representatives) and the entire process is being reinitiated (throwing out all recommendations). This is the real injustice that is occurring. We posit that agency members of this panel are reluctant to give an up-down vote on any given recommendation for fear of political repercussion or organizational change. They have instead chosen to respond to our requests with personal attacks and outcries that our process was inconsistent with Act 54. We never denied that.
In November of 2017, the Criminal Justice Training Council’s process of changing the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy (unilateral) was inconsistent with Act 54. Assistant Attorney General Scherr and the Panel were made aware (Act 54 Update agenda item at a Panel Meeting). Major Jonas (Public Safety) immediately dismissed the update as a “mischaracterization”. All legislative leadership (oversight) are aware of the Vermont Criminal Justice Council’s blatant disregard for the process of changing the FIP. The Council’s decision to disregard the letter of the law was to ensure that the state police received five hundred thousand dollars (and additional money for local departments) from the Department of Justice (Community Oriented Policing Grant). We acknowledged the letter of the law by consulting the Attorney General before acting to ensure that recommendations to mitigate systemic racism were given a real chance to be considered, enabling hope for our children.
Mr. Chair, you stated that the Panel would start the process from the beginning because of your concerns that there was “too much emotion” behind the existing report. This decision is clearly at the expense of the countless hours of deliberations and committee work documented in Minutes, personal notes and on the ORCA Media web site. This will enable agency heads to be able to bury the recommendations and produce something more to their liking without ever having to go on record on any given recommendation.
The Attorney General nominated the former Chair and both the former Chair and Vice-Chair’s nominations were carried unanimously. We made every effort to ensure that the process was fair by giving everyone an opportunity to offer dissent on any component of the report. The Chair and Vice-chair resigned from the Panel because despite our best efforts, as has been throughout all of our nations history; there is a reluctance of those with political and economic power to make at real effort to change. We urge you to salvage the recommendations that were put forward to maintain the integrity of the process and ensure the credibility of the outcome. As stated in the Attorney General and the Human Rights Commission Task Force Act 54 – Racial Disparities in State Systems Report (December 2017) “People of Color have waited far too long for the equality we promise in word but not deed. It is time to remedy that wrong.”
Lastly, a simple “thank you” and a humble apology is the least the Attorney General and the Panel can offer the former Chair and Vice-Chair. We deserve nothing less.
Former Chair, Racial Disparities in the Criminal and
Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel
Former Vice-Chair, Racial Disparities in the Criminal and
Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel
Mr. Attorney General
Assistant Attorney General Scherr
Mr. President Pro Tempore
Madam Speaker of the House
Director Richards (HRC)
Director Lyall (ACLU)