Black Lives Matter.
But it’s not enough just to say it. We must start taking concrete steps to eradicate the violence and racism inherent in our current system, starting right here in Vermont.
Recent studies have shown police departments in Vermont have a very real bias and pull over and detain African American Vermonters at a significantly higher rate than White Vermonters. This is not anecdotal, this is the reality African American Vermonters are facing every day. We must take legislative action to push back against this by requiring all police officers in Vermont, from the State Police to local departments, to go through trainings designed to challenge built in biases. We should also move toward requiring body cameras for all police officers, so they can be better held accountable. And we must fund regular, government funded studies, to ensure that any actions we take are working and continue to work.
It’s time to challenge the culture that has taken root across America that the police are somehow apart and separate from our communities. There are many ways to start to do this. We must fight back against the militarization of police departments here in Vermont by banning the purchase of surplus, military grade equipment. We must encourage and fund efforts at moving toward community policing models, particularly in our urban centers. We need to explore ways to increase the diversity of our police departments, so that they better reflect our increasingly diverse communities. We need to fund and encourage better training for officers in de-escalation techniques and how to approach Vermonters in a mental health crisis. We should take a hard look at what should be considered an allowable use of force. And we must create a culture in which good police officers who challenge bad police officers feel safe, rather than the other way around, through legislation if necessary.
Beyond addressing issues at the police department level, we must take steps to fix a fundamentally broken justice system. We must end the failed drug war and ensure addiction is treated as a public health issue, rather than a criminal issue. And we must work to dismantle the private, for-profit prison system. It is a travesty of justice, awash with human rights abuses; prisons simply should not be a source of profit for anyone. Here in Vermont, that means immediately moving to cancel our contracts with Corrections Corporation of America and bring all Vermont inmates back to Vermont.