Request for the Governor to Sign H.308

Mr. Governor,

I am Mark Hughes and I am the original crafter of what has become H.308. I am an Iowa native and have been in residence in Vermont for over 8 years. I am a retired army officer, a father and a grandfather. I am an ordained minister in the Baptist faith. I am the cofounder and Executive Director of Justice for All, A racial justice organization with a mission to pursue racial justice within Vermont’s criminal justice system through advocacy, education, and relationship building.

Literally hundreds of people have reached out to the legislature and your office from across the state to express the importance H.308 and racial justice reform in Vermont. Our petitions record thousands more who are in support of this bill. Some of this citizen support is on record in the Legislature. Notable is the support of the Human Rights Commission and the ACLU of Vermont on this important historic legislation.

Over the course of the past couple of years we have built relationships with countless elected officials and members of the law enforcement community. We have also conducted dozens of community activities designed to educate and build bridges across these communities and into the law enforcement local leadership apparatuses. During this time and leading up to the introduction of this bill we have been in consultation with the Attorney General, various police chiefs, the state police union representative and the Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Training Council concerning the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile System Panel. During the course of this time we have built a coalition of over 30 organizations (Racial Justice Reform Coalition) who all stand in support of this H.308. You can find a list of these organizations here:

Neither racial justice reform nor the concept of it beginning in the criminal justice system is new in Vermont. Act 134 in 2012; “Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System” was a bill that focused on racism from an institutional (implicit) perspective. It addressed sentencing, policy, data collection, training, the complaints process and other justice system workers. Unfortunately, the approach was walked back over the last five years to focus primarily on law enforcement.

Today one in 14 African American males are incarcerated in Vermont (leading the nation). We all know that African Americans continue to be stopped and searched at disproportionate rates across the state. We learned this year that over 15% of the use of force cases reported by Burlington involve African Americans (3.8% population). We learned during these proceedings that black youth have been on average 340% more likely to go to Woodside over the past four years! Further, we have learned last year from reports from Dr. Stephanie Sequino of UVM, Dr. Jack McDevett of North Eastern University and Ashley Nellis (The Color of Justice) that the problem in Vermont has worsened over the past five years.

We are aware of concerns that are surfacing claiming that somehow the Fair and Impartial Policing component of this legislation will place us into a so-called “Sanctuary State” status. A tremendous effort has been made to arrive at the consensus and careful consideration was given to address all concerns along a timeline in moving forward, as you can see here. It should be noted that the Attorney General stands in support of the this legislation and provided guidance in the approach to addressing the FIP, in light of concerns involving potential of de-funding of federal programs.

We owe it to this state and our people to stand on the side of right. Our moral responsibility and sense of urgency must take us beyond discussions of “process and timing” and we cannot allow our perceptions of perfect to become the enemy of done.   This is the most significant piece of racial justice reform legislation in Vermont History. All of Vermont must acknowledge that the time for racial justice reform is now. People of color in Vermont are being arrested, serving as targets of use of force and incarcerated disproportionately on a daily basis and it is destroying lives and families EVERY DAY. The impact of stigma and trauma that the criminal justice system places on our people is life long and spans generations.

Mr. Governor, I respectfully implore you to sign H.308. I ask that you stand on the right side of history as a Governor that made the controversial and highly political decision to advance racial justice reform as an issue for our state.   As racial disparities in our criminal justice system in Vermont worsen, the president has issued three executive orders announcing yet another “tough on crime” agenda. Now more than ever, people of color in Vermont call upon our state to protect us!

In closing I will leave you with a quote:

“I’m going to do everything I can to protect the rights of all Vermonters and the human rights of all people — that includes standing up to executive orders from Washington that cross legal, ethical and moral lines that have distinguished America from the rest of the world for generations,”

Mr. Governor, you said these words in the defense of S.79, an immigration bill that was signed into law last month. Please approach H.308 with the same moral compass and sense of urgency that was displayed with the Immigration Bill. All of us in Vermont want this state to be known as a place where there is Justice for All!

Respectfully, Mark A. Hughes,
Justice For All, Executive Director

signing bill