The Battle Against the War on Drugs

Our Justices courageously interpreted the constitution with a blind eye towards justice.  They chose right over easy.

The Battle Against the War on Drugs

The Vermont Supreme Court issued a monumental decision of seismic proportion a couple weeks ago in Zullo vs. the State of Vermont. As legal scholars grapple with the ramifications of Article 11, monetary damages and search and seizure, the Attorney General is still muddling through this voluminous decision.  The decision rambles on about reasonable suspicion resulting in the smell of “a faint odor of burnt marijuana”, the idea of Article 11 being “self executing” (enabling Gregory to file suite against the state), “bad faith” and “unlawful animus”.  The one that thing can be said of this historic decision is that it is complicated and even befuddling legal experts. With all this to unpack it is probably fair to say that this State decision is comparable to Brown vs. the Board of Education at a national level.

This finding taught us that search and seizure protection in Vermont is greater than those offered by the US Constitution. Our Justices courageously interpreted the constitution with a blind eye towards justice.  They chose right over easy.  Interestingly what lies at the center of this case is a black man, drugs (suspicion) and a law enforcement officer.  This case started with yet another traffic stop, and though seemingly absent use of force, the force exerted caused traumatic impact. Gregory was one of the fortunate few.  He was able to negotiate the maze of confusion and find remedy. Make no mistake about it; there is nothing normal or trivial about his endeavor.  It was a miracle, thanks to the Vermont ACLU a private law firm and a number of friends of the court through an amicus brief.  

Thousands of cases never see the inside of a courtroom. Black and brown people in Vermont faced with lost civil liberties are often left traumatized and paralyzed. Now is the time for the legislature to take action.  The legislature should take up the bill expanding the Human Rights Commission with the addition of a litigator, a community outreach director and funding to enable Community Justice Center intake.  This bill calls for Vermont to join the 30 states that have made racial profiling illegal. The legislature must also conduct public hearings to determine the progress of the implementation of the work that has been accomplished in Act 9 (2018), Racial Equity Panel (and Director) and Act 54 (2017), Racal Disparities In the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel. 

Finally, when discussions on regulation and legalization of marijuana arise (as is inevitable), hopefully we won’t forget the story of the black man, law enforcement officer and drugs.  There should be no regulation or taxation of marijuana without addressing the harm of the past and providing a hope for the future for black and brown people.  The moral arc of the universe is indeed long and bends toward justice in Vermont.  Let the battle against the war on drugs continue in the Green Mountain State.

Alliance Announces Legislative Agenda: #Change Vermont

Change Vermont


Contact: Mark Hughes, Justice For All Executive Director: 802.532.3030

Racial Justice Reform Coalition Changes Name, Calls for Change

Montpelier, Vermont, January 8, 2018 – The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance (the Alliance) previously the Racial Justice Reform Coalition, that advanced Act 54 (2017), Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel and Act 9 (2018), Racial Equity Panel (and Director), today announced its legislative agenda, “Change Vermont:. The agenda puts forward bills abolishing constitutionalized slavery and establishing a commission to provide recommendations on reconciliation.

“We should not excuse ourselves from our responsibility for this fight. It’s time for us to recognize that racism is both a tool of oppression to harm people of color and the most historically successful instrument of oppressing and obstructing the progress of money poor white folk” said Netdahe Stoddard, a white member of the Alliance. The Alliance is moving forward bills to expand the Human Rights Commission, implement ethnic studies standards, prohibit racial profiling, roll out consistent standards for law enforcement use of force and to update Act 9. Nico Amador of Vermont ACLU said, “People of color have taken the leadership in advancing new approaches to addressing racial justice issues across the state of Vermont. It is our hope that constituents support the leadership”

Alliance members will be at the “Advancing the People’s Platform in Vermont” forum on Wednesday, January 9, 2019 from 10:45 until noon discussing the platform.

About Justice For All
Justice for All pursues racial justice within Vermont’s criminal justice system through advocacy, education, and relationship building.


Statements of Policy, Guidance for nondiscriminatory School Discipline, Withdrawn

While we weren’t looking

On December 21st 2018, the Acting US Attorney General withdrew[1] the Dear Colleague Letter on Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline[2], the Overview of the Supportive School Discipline Initiative[3] and supporting documents.  Collectively these documents have served as the backbone of a framework implemented to address the administration of nondiscriminatory discipline in schools and stop the school to prison pipeline.  These statements of policy and guidance were implemented by the previous administration because of the absence of any other suitable tool as a result of an obstructionist congress, unwilling to pass the appropriate laws.

The decision to withdraw this guidance was hidden in the noise of the Friday afternoon of the most tumultuous week of this presidency.  It is being sold to us in the false narrative that the previous guidance impinged upon schools discretion in discipline and that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is an adequate remedy for discriminatory discipline in schools.  Neither is true.  Removing this guidance is a heinous atrocity, which will cause traumatic and irreparable damage to our children and our nation.

The Struggle Home

We, in Vermont have struggled tirelessly to address discriminatory discipline, harassment and bullying in our schools.  The Vermont Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil rights reported discovering in 1997 racial harassment “pervasive … [and] not a priority among school administrators, school boards, elected officials…”[4] An update, six years later reported “problems cited in its 1999 Report persist…”[5] and a recent 2015, Vermont Legal Aid reported that “Black/African-American and Native American Students Were Two to Three Times More Likely than White Students to be Suspended.”[6]   

We ask the legislature, the Attorney General and the Human Rights Commission in consultation with the Department of Children and Families and the Secretary of Education to immediately develop and implement policy that will ensure inclusiveness in standards, fairness in discipline and diversity in admissions. Address this with the urgency and commitment you showed in response to the immigration crisis in 2017.  Do this because it is the right thing to do.


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

Christine Kemp-Longmore
Co-founder Community Council Accountable with Law Enforcement Officials

Wafic Faour
Vermonters For Justice in Palestine,

Mark Hughes
Executive Director, Justice For All

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

Steffen Glenn Gillom
President, Windham County Branch of the NAACP

Kiah Morris
Former State Representative

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

Don Stevens
Chief of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe

Gemma Seymour,
Vermont Human Rights Advocate







40 Days of Fire Wrap-up: Next Steps

40 Days of Fire Campaign!

Happy Holidays to all and season greetings! First things first. Will you please donate to Justice For All HERE? 

Click here to donate

Thank you!

40 Days of Fire
The 40 Days of Fire Campaign was a statewide racial justice community organizing initiative designed for two purposes:  to shine a light on the use of racial dog whistles in political discourse and debate, by educating and empowering folks to break their silence and; to enlist folks to learn more about and engage in our ongoing efforts in the fight against overt and systemic racism. This involved updating community members on the progress on the implementation of Act 9 (2018), Racial Equity Panel and Act 54 (2017), Racial Disparities Panel.  We also provided updates and called folks to action on ongoing efforts to amend the constitution to remove slavery.  Homework was provided to enable folks to escalate concerns to elected and appointed stakeholders.
What we did.  What we accomplished

This statewide campaign organized nearly 200 people with visits to Montpelier,BurlingtonMiddleburyHardwickHartford, Marshfield, East Montpelier and Brattleboro.  We also conducted a webinar in conjunction with the ACLU Smart Justice Campaign.  The feedback that we have received from the “homework” assigned indicates that as a direct result of the campaign, the Attorney General and Human Rights Commission Act 54 “Task Force” Report was resubmitted and the Speaker of the House urged the Secretary of Administration to create a community-facing web presence for Act 9 updates.  We have also received reports that the full Act 9, Racial Equity Panel was seated and the Governor’s office announced that they are considering amending Executive Order 4-18 (Racial Equity) in the coming months.  Finally, the Senate President Pro Tempore committed to taking a “renewed look at what steps need to be taken” regarding improper implementation of Fair and Impartial Policing Policy by state police.  He also committed to taking measures to amend the constitution to remove slavery. 

How we ended and what’s next
The campaign culminated in a Community Gathering where folks from across the state gathered to discuss next steps in organizing and begin the process of building a sustained effort to engage in addressing systemic racism and racial justice across the state.  As we transition into the next phase we will continue the business of engaging elected and appointed officials on a new legislative agenda (Public Engagement)!   We will also bring the community together around issues  (Community Organizing).  We will be meeting on a Conference Call on Wednesday, January 2, 2019 6:00 PM to discuss how we will make this happen.  We will be unveiling the 2019/2020 Legislative Agenda this meeting.  You don’t want to miss it.  The meeting is open for the community to join!

information and agenda are below:
The Racial Justice Alliance is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: Action Meeting: 40 Days of Fire Closeout – Legislative Agenda!
Time: Jan 2, 2019 5:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
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  • Background
  • Updates
  • Legislative Agenda
  • Discussion
  • Next Steps    

The year is closing and you can still give us a hand.

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Justice For All pursues racial justice within Vermont’s criminal justice system through advocacy, education, and relationship-building.   Would you like to Become a member? 

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Justice For All Membership available here.

Calls for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement in Vermont Continue

Please sign this petition for civilian oversight of law enforcement

Delivering on the Promise of Hope and a Future
Press conference during deliberations on Act 54

Working to Make All of Vermont Safe For All

Thousands of folks across Vermont have worked hard over the last number of years to ensure the appropriate protection of those in vulnerable categories.  The State continues to struggle to produce an environment that is safe for all.  We have been advocating civilian oversight of law enforcement for this purpose. Our calls have fallen on deaf ears.  We need your help to deliver the message.

The Fair and Impartial Policing Policy  (FIPP)

Act 54, updated Title 20, 2366 to require the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council (VCJTC) and the Attorney General’s (AG) Office to bring the existing FIPP into compliance with immigration law and the VCJTC to create a cohesive FIPP.  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.  As of  March, 2018, all agencies have been under legislative mandate to adopt all components of the Council FIPP. Finally, Act 54 requires that the AG and the VCJTC review the FIPP of all agencies, no later than 15 April, 2018.

Poor FIPP Implementation

Inconstant with process outlined in Act 54, the VCJTC changed the FIPP without the consultation of the Human Rights Commission in November of 2017.  This was done in response to a threat from then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to withhold a grant valued at over five hundred thousand dollars. It is no wonder that now we find that the Vermont State Police have failed to adopt the FIPP, as required by law (Act 54).

Recently, our friends at Migrant Justice informed us that the Vermont State police have failed to adopt the FIPP, as required by law. Migrant Justice says, in a recent letter that “The State Police’s violation of state law has resulted in farmworker Olman Lopez being placed in immigration custody. Because of the State Police’s actions, Olman is now in deportation proceedings and at risk of being permanently separated from his wife and three children.”

State Police Advisory Commission 

The “State Police Advisory Commission” SPAC is held out as the best example of oversight in Vermont.  Seven days spoke of the ineffectiveness of the body in the Spring of 2018. Despite the conflict of interest being brought to the attention of the Assistant Attorney General over one year ago, Governor Scott reappointed Nancy Sheahan to Chair the SPAC.  Sheahan, a partner at the Burlington firm McNeil Leddy & Sheahan is “a go-to lawyer for Vermont cops who have been accused of mistakes or wrongdoing.” All of this and in almost EVERY instance, law enforcement are cleared from any wrongdoing by the States Attorney or the Attorney General.


Act 147 (2016) updated Title 20, 2358, requiring all law enforcement to attend “anti-bias training approved by the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council and training on the State, county, or municipal law enforcement agency’s fair and impartial policing policy”… On or before December 31, 2018”.  There is no indication that this deadline will be met by Vermont law enforcement.

In early December, 2018, it was discovered that the State Police were scheduled to attend a program that brings local law enforcement to Israel for training with the Israeli military, police and secret service. Local activists organized and petitioned and the state police pulled back on their plans to attend.  Despite our calls, there remains no consistent appropriate use of force, de-escalation and cross cultural awareness training across the 79 agencies in Vermont.

UPDATE: reported Monday (January 7, 2019) that an investigation by the Burlington Police Department found that Officer Erin Bartle and two others sustained injuries such as concussions and hearing loss during an academy drill known as the “hitchhiker scenario.” A fourth officer was knocked unconscious. During the drill, instructors punched recruits in the head without warning. Bartle is suing the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council, which oversees the academy.   Read the latest update in this gross negligence of oversight and threat to public safety here.

Vermont Constitution
Article 5. [Internal police]

That the people of this state by their legal representatives, have the sole, inherent, and exclusive right of governing and regulating the internal police of the same.

Article 6. [Officers servants of the people]

That all power being originally inherent in and co[n]sequently derived from the people, therefore, all officers of government, whether legislative or executive, are their trustees and servants; and at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them.

Our Demands:

  1. We call on the Attorney General to
    • investigate compliance with Title 20, 2366 and 2358.
    • hold the pubic safety commissioner accountable to the law
  2. We call on the legislature to
    • mandate the removal of the Attorney General from the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council
    • execute its constitutional responsibility to be accountable to the people by “governing and regulating internal police” with sufficient civilian oversight of law enforcement.
    • codify remedies for law enforcement violations of Title 20, 2366 and 2358.
    • legally prohibit racial profiling
    • mandate the incorporation the collection of use of force data into the existing traffic race data collection data set outlined in Title 20, 2366.
    • mandate that all law enforcement agencies be required to implement consistent appropriate use of force, De-escallation and Cross cultural Awareness Training
    • mandate that all law enforcement agencies be required to undertake appropriate use of force, de-escalation and cross cultural awareness training (and in service).
  3. We call on the Governor to
    • Hold the Public Safety commissioner accountable for racial equity in enforcement.
    • remove Nancy Sheahan from the State Police Advisory Commission.

Sign the petition for civilian oversight of law enforcement

Your Call to Action: 

Contact the Attorney General  and demand that he conduct a formal investigation into adherence to Title, 20, 2366 an 2358 and hold the Public Safety Commissioner accountable to the law.

Reach out to your legislator and legislative leadership and demand  public hearings and and other requests above to protect Vermont’s most vulnerable.

  • Main number: 828-2228
  • Find Legislators here
  • Email legislative Leadership here

Ask the Governor to remove Nancy Sheahan from the State Police Advisory Commission

  • Email the governor here
  • Contact his office by phone at: 828-3333

Sign the petition for civilian oversight of law enforcement


Local Activists, Organizers and Community Leaders Speak Out on Sanders Institute “Gathering” of “Progressive” Leaders


From left to right Rutland NAACP President Tabitha Pohl-Moore, former Champlain Valley NAACP President Mary Guillory-Brown, former State Representative Kiah Morris, former State  Representative, Kesha Ram, and Executive Director of Justice For All Mark Hughes 

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. 



Tabitha Pohl-Moore
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
Executive 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

Olivia Lapierre she/her
Environmental Justice Community Organizer

Don Stevens
Chief of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe

Sarika Tandon
Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity

Press Release: ’40 Days of Fire’ to Address Overt and Systemic Racism Across Vermont


’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

To learn more about 40 Days of Fire, and to sign up to hold a workshop in your area, please visit

About Justice For All
Justice for All pursues racial justice within Vermont’s criminal justice system through advocacy, education, and relationship building.



40 Days of Fire: A Racial Justice Community Organizing Campaign

WELCOME to the 40 Days of Fire Campaign!

Here are the CliffNotes:

  1. Contribute (bottom of this page) to the 40 Days of Fire campaign and sign up to bring the 40 Days of Fire campaign to your community
  2. Read Education and Action Page and take the specific actions outlined
  3. Disseminate the Education and Action Page (email, social media, etc…)


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.


  1. Race, politics and policy: The Making of a Nation
  2. The State of Vermont: Systemic (and overt) racism across the state
  3. Breakout: Addressing overt and systemic racism in Vermont
  4. Strategy to call out and take a stand against racial pandering in politics

Go here to get educated and take action NOW!

Locations scheduled and currently being considered for 40 Days of Fire Racial Justice Organizing Campaign:

  • Burlington, October 2– Synagogue Ahavath Gerim, 6:30 – 8:30pm
  • Middlebury, October 4 – Fenn House at Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, 6:00-8:00pm
  • Hardwick, October 9 – St. Norbert’s Church Hall, 6:00 – 8:00pm
  • Hartford, October 14 – Main Street Museum, 3:00-5:00pm
  • Marshfield, October 17 – Twinfield UnionSchool, 6:00-8:00pm
  • Webinar, 23 October – Zoom Call, 6:00-7:30pm
  • Brattleboro, October 28 – All Souls U.U. Church, 12:00 – 2:00pm
  • Westforfd, November (TBD)
  • Stowe (tentative)


Join us for the 40 Days of Fire Community Forum “The Gathering” at the McLure Multigenerational Center (241 Winooski, Burlington)  on Saturday, 27 October from 1:00 till 4:00.  We will discuss our progress and plan our next steps in the Campaign.

To learn more about 40 Days of Fire, and to sign up to hold a workshop in your area, please visit

We need your financial support to make the 40 Days of Fire happen!

One Time Contribution

Thank you


Justice For All Membership available here.

Why is This?

Mark Hughes, Executive Director

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.


White People: Save the Nation; Break Your Silence

Mark Hughes, Executive Director, JFA

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.