This week has been both productive and frustrating in the statehouse. We have made multiple changes to H.492 in response to law enforcement’s concerns surrounding “language in the bill”. Today we returned to House Judiciary to provide a version of the bill that we thought was acceptable to law enforcement. No one from law enforcement showed up. They have not suggested any alternative language and they are suggesting that this bill be referred to a summer study. As a result, the Chair is reluctant to bring the bill to a vote so the bill is at an impasse.
Law enforcement has high-jacked the first racial justice bill in Vermont history. This is not a law enforcement issue; it is a racial justice issue. The purpose of this bill is to provide transparency and accountability to the processes currently mandated by statute to address implicit bias and to continue the deployment of these processes across the remainder of the criminal justice system. Only then can we begin the process of addressing similar challenges in the employment, housing, education, health services systems.
Article 5 of the Vermont Constitution states 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 7 of the Vermont Constitution states that “government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community, and not for the particular emolument or advantage of any single person, family, or set of persons, who are a part only of that community; and that the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right, to reform or alter government, in such manner as shall be, by that community, judged most conducive to the public weal”
Vermont started some of the legislative work to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system in 2012. In spite of the implementation of data collection, training and policy, the data indicate that the problem has worsened in Vermont and in some ways we are the worst in the nation! President Trump’s selection of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and his issuance of three “tough-on-crime” Executive Orders add even more of a sense of urgency to address racial disparities in Vermont.
The Racial Justice Reform Coalition is comprised of 30 organizations that stand in unity in support of racial justice reform in Vermont. Hundreds of people have signed petitions and called and emailed our legislature in support of racial justice reform. Dozens of supporters have taken time off from work and showed up in spite of the fluid and unpredictable House Floor schedule. Leadership from both the House and Senate has publicly expressed their support for the Racial Justice Oversight Board called for in H.492. The Attorney General has supported H.492 from the beginning of this process. Racial Justice in Vermont must be undertaken with the same moral compass and sense of urgency as that of immigrant justice (S.79), at a minimum to ensure Justice For All in Vermont.
The Racial Justice Reform Coalition will conduct a meeting at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier at 1:00 on Thursday, March 30th to evaluate our position and consider action moving forward. The next day we will be engaging the wider community at the Halftime Community Round-up Potluck in the same location (5:30 Friday, March 31st) and getting everybody up to speed on where we go from here.
Mark A. Hughes, Executive Director
Justice For All