Vermont Racial Justice Alliance Blog

Racial Equity in COVID-19 Vaccination Policy

Image result for COVID-19 Vaccination rates of black folks

Dear Mr Governor and Commissioner Levine

I’m writing about Vermont’s vaccination policy, which, according to vtdigger.org,  Commissioner Mark Levine has described as “simple and fair.” As you know, phase one of the rollout was for front-line workers and long-term care facility residents, and phase two, is people 75 years and older.

Due to structural racism, this so-called “simple and fair” policy, will have a disparate, negative impact on Vermonters who are black, indigenous and people, of color.

The first phase, which prioritized long-term care facility residents, effectively excluded Vermonters who are black, indigenous or people of color because the overwhelming majority of long-term care facility residents nationally (78 percent) and in Vermont are white. Vermonters who are black, indigenous or people of color tend not to house their elders in long-term care facility for cultural reasons.

However, the risk to Vermont elders living in multi-generational households is no less than that of Vermonter elders living in long-term care facilities. In fact, as you know, Vermonters who are black, indigenous and people of color are at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus from a household contact. Thirty-six percent of non-white Vermonters had household contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, as compared to only 20 percent of white Vermonters.

Thus, even though non-white Vermonters living in multi-generational households have the same or greater risk of exposure and/or dying from COVID-19, they were structurally excluded from the first phase of the vaccination roll-out in Vermont by limiting it to those who have the resources or the cultural norm of moving their elders into long-term care facilities.

The second phase of the vaccination rollout is also problematic in terms of racial equity. A vaccination program that prioritizes people age 75 years and over structurally excludes Vermonters who are black because nationally, the average life expectancy of black people is just 75 years of age, due in large part to the effects of systematic racism.

In addition, COVID-19 cases among non-white Vermonters tend to be younger than for white Vermonters. The average age of persons testing positive for COVID-19 is 33 among non-white Vermonters, whereas the average age is 46 among white Vermonters.

As you know, non-white Vermonters have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Nearly one in every five COVID-19 cases in Vermont are among non-white Vermonters even though non-white Vermonters make up approximately six percent of Vermont’s population. The incidence rate is as high as 225.7 for black Vermonters versus 26.2 for white Vermonters.

The most troubling statistic is the preexisting conditions rates among COVID-19 cases. Based on the 2018 Vermont Department of Health’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System report, there are no statistically significant differences in the rates of pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease and cardiovascular disease among white and non-white Vermonters. However, there are disparities in the rates of pre-existing conditions among Vermonters testing positive for COVID-19. The pre-existing conditions rate among COVID-19 cases is 19.4 percent for non-white Vermonters and 12.1 percent for white Vermonters. This suggests that non-white Vermonters are at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to their type of employment and living arrangements. Thus, a vaccination program that priorities long-term care facilities and age 75 years and older, effectively excludes non-white Vermonters who are at disproportionate risk for contracting the virus and for more serious outcomes, such as hospitalization.

While it may be simple to use residence at a long-term facility and age at criteria for access to the vaccine, it is not fair or equitable to all Vermonters because of systemic racism.

We implore you to re-visit this vaccination plan with an eye and commitment to racial equity.

Respectfully,

Mark

cc’d:  UVMMC, HRC, RE Director and Legislative Health Committee Leadership

Calls for Governor to Make Champlain Parkway the RIGHTway

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release: 
February 4, 2021

Media Contact:
Stephanie Gomory
802-505-5587 / stephaniegomory28@gmail.com

Vermont Racial Justice Advocates Request Governor to Make Champlain Parkway the Champlain RIGHTway

Vermont Racial Justice Alliance Proposes RIGHTway alternative to the Champlain Parkway

Burlington, Vt. – Today, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance (VRJA) announced a plea sent to Governor Phil Scott on January 15, 2021 to address the racial and environmental issues related to the Champlain Parkway Project. 

Though the project’s original intent was to improve traffic circulation, reduce traffic burdens in residential neighborhoods and improve motorist and pedestrian traffic, the Champlain Parkway as proposed will have a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown and poor people in Burlington. The pending implementation of the Champlain Parkway will result in a 37% increase in traffic in the Maple-King neighborhood in Burlington while decreasing traffic by 72% through affluent white communities.  

“We are alarmed at the extent to which the Parkway disproportionately impacts Black and Brown and poor communities, as currently designed.” said Mark Hughes, Executive Director of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance ”

Vermont and its Federal and City of Burlington partners recently conducted and published a Limited Scope Draft Environmental impact Statement (LSDEIS)  to evaluate environmental justice issues for the first time.  The study was conducted and released during the coronavirus pandemic and neither the City, FHWA, nor State provided adequate outreach to invite the community of Maple-King to participate in the process and development of the LSDEIS. 

The Champlain RIGHTway was created in partnership with the Pine Street Coalition and Fortieth Burlington.  To read the full letter presented to Governor Scott please visit: https://bit.ly/3jfMo1V

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About the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance: 

The mission of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance is to secure sustainable power, ensure agency and provide security for American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS), while embracing their history and preserving their culture.

Vermont’s quality of life areas in 3 V.S.A. 2311

We will provide written testimony on Vermont’s quality of life areas in 3 V.S.A. 2311 and put forward policy requesting an 11th area be added to the ten Vermont’s quality of life area.  The process of a public hearing on this topic is not conducive to meaningful and productive engagement for the advancement of a topic of such importance, nor does it provide the vital context required for our community who would seek to engage.   In our legislative agenda for last Biennium, we called on the legislature to add an additional area to the ten Vermont’s quality of life areas in 3 V.S.A. 2311.  The existing areas are:

(1) Vermont has a prosperous economy.

(2) Vermonters are healthy.

(3) Vermont’s environment is clean and sustainable.

(4) Vermont is a safe place to live.

(5) Vermont’s families are safe, nurturing, stable, and supported.

(6) Vermont’s children and young people achieve their potential.

(7) Vermont’s elders live with dignity and in settings they prefer.

(8) Vermonters with disabilities live with dignity and in settings they prefer.(9) Vermont has open, effective, and inclusive government.(10) Vermont’s State infrastructure meets the needs of Vermonters, the economy, and the environment

(9) Vermont has open, effective, and inclusive government.

(10) Vermont’s State infrastructure meets the needs of Vermonters, the economy, and the environment

Our recommendation for the 11th area to be added was that to the effect of:

“Vermont’s Black, Indigenous and other People of Color live in safety and wellness and have equitable opportunity to thrive.

Our belief was that adopting this recommendation would have served to create a transformation that goes to the heart of our work in dismantling systemic racism in Vermont.  Structuring the work in this way provides a point of aggregation for measurement for what we know to be a vitally important area of Vermont quality of life.  Instead of adopting our recommendation, the legislature passed a one-time provision whereby the GAC, Executive Director of Racial Equity, Social Equity Caucus and Chief Performance Officer accept recommendations from “relevant entities” population-level indicators that demonstrate quality of life for BIPOC Vermonters that relate to the ten population-level quality of life outcomes.

The following language was added to the statute:

“Vermont’s population-level quality of life outcomes are intended to reflect the well-being of all Vermonters, and indicators reported to measure the extent to which outcomes are achieved are intended to represent the experience of all Vermonters, including and especially Vermonters who are members of marginalized groups.”

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance was not involved in any testimony or deliberations surrounding this decision, nor was other representatives of the extended BIPOC advocacy community.  We have had limited engagement post enactment of this legislation.  Dispersing the population level indicators of BIPOC safety and wellness and our ability to thrive into the other 10 Vermont quality of life areas dilutes the priority and distills the much needed analysis required to make meaningful gains in eradicating systemic racism.

By statute, each year the Chief Performance Officer “submits to the General Assembly a State Outcome Report demonstrating the State’s progress reaching population-level outcomes for each area of Vermont’s quality of life by providing data for the population-level indicators.  

The purpose of our request was to create an area of quality of life whereby the State’s progress in reaching the related population level outcomes could be annually measured.   We believe that the State should be held accountable to this area of quality of life:

“Vermont’s Black, Indigenous and other People of Color live in safety and wellness and have equitable opportunity to thrive.

As we announced in our ACT press conference yesterday, “Our current national constitutional crisis is due to an unacknowledged, uncorrected and unresolved politically driven, racially exploitative economic system.” Systems of racial oppression and an ongoing unprecedented global pandemic place us at the epicenter of the resulting trauma like never before.”  We learned from Act 54’s Attorney General’s and Human Rights Commission’s Task Force in 2017 that racial disparities in Vermont exist across all systems of State government.  We know that systemic racism is real and the political process and government is the primary apparatus that created and sustains it. We will include in our A.C.T. legislative priorities language that change sto 3 V.S.A. 2311 to include an 11th area of quality of life:

“Vermont’s Black, Indigenous and other People of Color live in safety and wellness and have equitable opportunity to thrive.

It is our hope that as a result of our persistence that BIPOC members and the extended advocacy community will have an opportunity to provided testimony and otherwise engage as true stakeholders in this critically important legislative process. We brought this policy to the legislature because we believe that these areas of quality of life (as articulated in 3 V.S.A. 2311) drive our Statewide goals, our priorities and our budget. We believe that BIPOC should be centered for all of the reasons we all know and understand. We believe that process here matters more than anything. Let’s get this one right.

#ACTVermont

Press release: Racial Justice Advocates Call on Legislature and Vermonters to A.C.T.

January 27, 2021

Media Contact:
Stephanie Gomory
802-505-5587 / stephaniegomory28@gmail.com

Racial Justice Advocates Call on Legislature and Vermonters to ACT
Vermont Racial Justice Alliance Releases Legislative Priorities for 2021

Montpelier, Vt. – Today, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance (VRJA) announced its top legislative priorities for 2021, expressing deep concern surrounding the unprecendented impact of COVID-19 and systemic racism on Black American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS). 

The Racial Justice Alliance is calling on the Vermont Legislature and Vermonters to ACT, building its advocacy around three main tenets: Acknowledging and reconciling historic systems of racism, Creating new structures for ADOS economic and cultural empowerment, and Transforming state systems to better serve ADOS Vermonters.

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, led by an ADOS Board of Directors and a people-of-color led Steering Committee, carries out its daily operations assisted by a coalition of individuals and organizations across Vermont. Their priorities this biennium will be undergirded with calls to achieve a moral budget from the bottom up that centers the lives of ADOS, then other Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC); and to declare racism a public health emergency and to address it accordingly.

“American Descendants of Slavery are in the crosshairs of the heightened intensity of COVID-19 and the historically lethal impact of the disparate outcomes of all social determinants, all of which are being hyper-exacerbated by systems of racial oppression,” says Mark Hughes, Executive Director of Justice For All and the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance. “It’s time to ACT, folks.”

During a press conference today, the VRJA outlined its legislative approach, which includes:

  • Passage of a constitutional amendment prohibiting slavery and indentured servitude in Vermont
  • Establishing a task force for chattel slavery reparations
  • Creating state economic empowerment programs for ADOS and other BIPOC, as well as their businesses
  • Creating structures that ensure land and home ownership for ADOS and other BIPOC
  • Implementing a targeted Health and Wellness Bill for ADOS and other BIPOC
  • Creating cultural empowerment spaces and programming for ADOS and other BIPOC

Also communicated as high priorities were the expansion of capacity, empowerment and funding for data infrastructure for the office of the State Racial Equity Director and the implementation of an independent Community Control Board for all law enforcement across the State.

“These legislative priorities will serve as the catalyst for the development of new avenues for ADOS and BIPOC folks’ empowerment and wellness to enable them the ability to flourish and thrive,” says Christopher Cockrell, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Racial Justice Alliance. “We at the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance are calling on our state leaders, agencies, and legislators to ACT.” 

More information can be found at http://bit.ly/3psJMA0

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About the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance: 

The mission of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance is to secure sustainable power, ensure agency and provide security for American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS), while embracing their history and preserving their culture.

Racial Justice Alliance A.C.T.

MEDIA ALERT

Contact:  Stephanie Gomory / stephaniegomory28@gmail.com / 802-505-5587 

Press Conference:
Vermont Racial Justice Alliance Announcing A.C.T. Legislative Agenda for 2021

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance will hold a Press Conference on Wednesday, January 27, 2021, at noon.  The virtual event is the first public unveiling of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance legislative agenda this session.

What: Vermont Racial Justice Alliance Announces A.C.T.
When: January 27, 2021, 12:00 pm
Where: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYkdO6srT8tGdWkJEe1_AMeeaPjTn_31sIV 
Who: Vermont Racial Justice Alliance Leaders and Partners

This year, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance is building its advocacy around three main tenets, known as A.C.T. 

  • Acknowledging and reconciling historic systems of racism
  • Creating new structures for American Descendents of Slavery (ADOS) economic and cultural empowerment
  • Transforming state systems to better serve ADOS Vermonters.

A.C.T. will enable policy makers to prioritize ADOS wellness and empowerment and enable their ability to thrive.

Speakers from the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance will call for a statewide declaration that racism is a public health emergency, and a moral budget that centers ADOS in Vermont. Hundreds of supporters and community members are expected to attend, including elected officials President Pro Tem Becca Balint and House Speaker Jill Krowinski.  

Individuals, organizations, community leaders, educators, elected officials and media are encouraged to register here: http://bit.ly/2LUDlHC

About the Racial Justice Alliance:

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance mitigates systemic racism through platform and policy, community engagement and support, outreach and education and cultural empowerment activities. To secure sustainable power, ensure agency and provide security for ADOS, while embracing their history and preserving their culture.

Letter Requesting Governor to Do Champlain Parkway the RIGHTway

The Honorable Phil Scott,
Governor of Vermont
109 State Street, Pavilion
Montpelier, VT 05609
January 7, 2021

Dear Governor Scott,

I write to you concerning the disproportionate impact the Champlain Parkway will have on Black and Brown and poor people in Burlington. The Champlain Parkway is antithetical to the goals of racial equity and is violative of the work of the Racial Equity Task Force to provide structures of support for racially diverse populations, including a focus on racial disparities in Covid-19 impacts. Because you have expressed your willingness to promote racial equity, we urge you to reconsider the Champlain Parkway.

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance and the Champlain Parkway

The Racial Justice Foundation d/b/a the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance (VRJA) mitigates the direct impact and dismantles the root (systemic) origins of racism across Vermont. VRJA is under the leadership of a Black (descendants of enslaved people) Board of Directors. A community-based, people-of-color Steering Committee provides ongoing advice and direction and much of the activities of VRJA is carried out by a network of advocates and organizations across the state of Vermont.

The mission of VRJA is to secure sustainable power, ensure agency and provide security for Black descendants of enslaved people, while embracing their history and preserving their culture. We are placing a priority on policies that generally affect change across a broad spectrum, including housing, education, employment, health services and economic development and the criminal justice system.

The work of VRJA meets at the intersection of the Maple/King neighborhood, one of the most densely racially diverse in the State. This community will be the most adversely impacted by the Champlain Parkway Project.

The project will result in a 37% increase in traffic in this community while decreasing traffic by 72% through affluent white communities. Consistent with our national racial policy of violence of the past we see here traffic impacts being shifted from white affluent communities to Black and Brown and poor neighborhoods that are once again required to shoulder the burden of progress for whites. We are alarmed at the extent to which the Parkway disproportionately impacts Black and Brown and poor communities, as currently designed. We posit that it is for this reason that it has a disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects on Black and Brown and poor communities and does not meet the purpose and goals of the Project. We therefore request that you pursue an alternative pathway to complete the Parkway.

Vermont and its Federal and City of Burlington partners recently conducted and published a Limited Scope Draft Environmental impact Statement (“LSDEIS”) to evaluate for the first time environmental justice issues and whether the Parkway would have a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown and low income communities. Unfortunately, the LSDEIS was conducted and released during the Coronavirus Pandemic which continues to severely exacerbate existing racial disparities in housing, education, employment, health services, economic development and the justice system,
particularly in this community. Some of these challenges presented included excessive exposure due to essential worker responsibilities and multi-generational housing and technology and childcare access limitations. Vermont’s Department of Health has determined that because of systemic and structural racism, “BIPOC Vermonters are overrepresented among COVID-19 cases in Vermont, making up 6% of the population but 18% of positive cases. Nearly 1 in every 5 COVID-19 cases in Vermont are among
BIPOC Vermonters.” Vermont Department of Health Data Brief, Covid-19 among Vermonters who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) (December 2020).

It was unreasonable and an additional undue burden to expect the disproportionately impacted people of this neighborhood to have had the capacity to sufficiently participate in this process, given the heavy burden placed upon them as a result of this global pandemic.

In addition, neither the City, FHWA, nor State provided adequate outreach to invite the community of Maple/King to participate in the process and development of the LSDEIS. This left no opportunity for these impacted communities to have meaningful participation as required by the EO and FHWA guidelines. Finally, the LSDEIS public comment period was not long enough to give a fair voice to all communities impacted by this project. In short these conditions in conjunction with the limited time provided made it dangerous and nearly impossible for the community for which the LSDEIS was being conducted to participate and comment.

The VRJA was fortunate enough to provide comments into this process during what was a very difficult time. As we stated in our comments, on its current trajectory the Champlain Parkway Project, will result in an insensitive act which clearly favors white affluent communities over the Black, Brown and poor communities in Burlington, Vermont. We have learned through history that the true cost of this project will be the
health, safety, economic prosperity and lives of Black, Brown and poor people in the Maple/King neighborhood in Burlington.

We have developed a revised alternative for the Champlain Parkway Project. This alternative successfully reaches the goals of the Champlain Parkway and ensures environmental justice.

The Problem

As currently designed, the Champlain Parkway will intentionally divert commercial traffic from the more affluent, white neighborhoods of the South End of Burlington to dump traffic into the low-income, BIPOC and immigrant neighborhoods closer to the city center. Maple/King will take the hardest hit of this traffic, with a 37% increase of traffic in the area, while the areas from Home Avenue to south of Flynn Avenue receive a 72% decrease of traffic.

Heavier traffic means higher risk to pedestrian safety, and those who are already at a higher risk of traffic related fatalities: poor, Black and Brown individuals, elderly and children–exactly the make up of this community.

The Champlain Parkway will create a wall bisecting the community from north to south. Dividing the community will isolate neighbors and separate many from resources and services. At the moment the Maple/King community experiences a smooth flow of pedestrians and bikes with the car traffic. This is necessary for the various community centers and coffee shops along the road, as it welcomes people, and offers an alternative mode of transport to cars.

In addition to the demonstrated disproportionately high and adverse environmental or health effects the Champlain Project will have on BIPOC and low-income communities, the Champlain Parkway will also result in a release of hazardous materials from the soil and additional noise and air pollution creating an unpleasant and dangerous community to live in. The Champlain Parkway will further eliminate parking, impact wetlands, alter and artificially restrict Engelsby Brook, impact wildlife corridors and
habitats, employ outdated stormwater treatment for discharges into impaired waters including Lake Champlain, and create risks to floodplains.

The Solution

As a solution to the Champlain Parkway, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, proposes the Champlain RIGHTway. Champlain RIGHTway is a multi-modal transportation improvement alternative to the obsolete, environmentally harmful and racially unjust Champlain Parkway proposal.
Champlain RIGHTway consists of elements already studied in the Champlain Parkway NEPA and state permitting process, so development can move forward swiftly, with minimal additional review. These three elements will decrease traffic congestion in both the Maple-King neighborhood and the Home-Flynn neighborhood, without harm and
injustice to the City’s cohesive Black and immigrant community. Further it would avoid the risks posed to pedestrian safety. The RIGHTway will also eliminate failed traffic configuration at Lakeside Avenue, ensuring continued access and growth in this most vibrant City sector;

  1. NORTH: Pine Street from Marble Avenue to Main. The North element of the Champlain RIGHTway consists of the northern segment of what the NEPA process calls Alternative 1, which is now called the Railyard Enterprise Project. This element relieves traffic congestion from the Maple-King neighborhood – which is also a registered historic district. This had been a compelling goal for the project until abandoned by the City in 2009.
  2. CENTRAL: Flynn Avenue to Pine Street at Marble Avenue. The Central element of the Champlain RIGHTway comprises pedestrian and bikeway construction along the project right-of-way to Lakeside, and along Pine Street from Lakeview northwards. This element supports the City’s commitment to green infrastructure, avoids truncating access to residential and vital economic areas with failed traffic conditions at Lakeside, supporting both the environment and innovative growth.
  3. SOUTH: Route 7 at I-189 to Flynn Avenue. The Southern element of the Champlain RIGHTway is effectively the existing C-1 section of the Southern Connector amended with a roundabout rather than dead-ending Pine Street, plus construction to Flynn Avenue, all with a cost saving smaller tarmac profile. This element relieves congestion
    and truck traffic from the Home-Flynn neighborhood and provides easy access to the South End’s growing industrial hub. Champlain RIGHTway resolves major concerns raised by key affected stakeholders, saving years and expense in litigation. VRJA has consulted with the Pine Street Coalition and Fortieth Burlington, LLC, two groups that have raised and litigated environmental, health and safety, and environmental justice concerns about the project. Both have indicated their support for the Champlain RIGHTway.

The Racial Justice Alliance would like to thank the Governor for taking the time to address these concerns further. We request and propose a meeting to discuss our concerns and the action plan to implement the Champlain RIGHTway alternative.

Respectfully,

Vermont Racial Justice Alliance

Breaking Silence and Standing Up for Right

All,

A couple weeks ago White extremists led an insurrection at the United States Capitol, waving confederate flags in the rotunda and hung a noose on the West side of the complex. They did so to overturn the outcome of a legitimate Democratic election. 

It’s important to pause and look at the General Election these white supremacists were reacting to. This was the election of Joseph Biden, a man who served as Vice President for the first Black president. This was the election of the first Black Woman Vice President Elect in United States history. This Democratic race was not only won by the popular vote, but was also validated by the Electoral College, an institution that is both racist and antiquated. We also mustn’t forget that the day of the Insurrection, we as a nation woke up to a historic special election in Georgia where the people’s voices broke the divisive Southern Strategy, changed the balance of power in the US Senate, and seated a Black Democrat in the US Senate for the first time in history. This all happened through the largest and most effective political fusion movement to remove an incumbent president in US history. 

Our current national constitutional crisis is due to an unacknowledged, uncorrected and unresolved politically driven, racially exploitative economic system.  We must all acknowledge that we are living in a racist nation.  It’s how we were founded and the entire political and economic system of this country has sustained itself on it.  It is the reason why we use terms like “systemic racism”.  This was all baked into who we are as a nation.  If we needed more evidence, we need only compare law enforcement response to insurrection in the United States Capitol to the Black Lives Matter protests in D.C., this past summer. This is the United States of America!  It is important for us to understand and embrace not only the true history of this nation but the wound that was left open that has become infected and is now developing gangrene.  The problem is that the doctor is the patient and is reluctant to conduct the surgical procedure required. 

We urge you to navigate this period clear-eyed, with an unflappable moral compass and an immovable stance on the side of right.  The time for “difficult conversations” has passed.  Now is a time for unapologetic words and decisive action.  As we have always said, anything less allows self-political, economic or social gain and makes you complicit.  Now is not the time to once again sit back in silence in hopes that this will pass. It will not.  It never has. This doesn’t stop until we stop it with intentional action. Those who seek to continue to create obstacles to our progress in the experiment of democracy (or worse) are not in distant places. They are doctors, lawyers, teachers, preachers, police, military and serving in all vocations here in Vermont. They are our family.   

We all have a responsibility to learn the truth about our nation and its racist history, the current impacts and prospective solutions. White folks should engage in open and respectful dialogue with their family and friends and acquaintances while standing in the gap to ensure the protection of the liberties of health, safety and prosperity for those that don’t look like you.  This will provide American descendents of slavery and other people of color the ability to focus on their wellness while protecting our hard fought liberties.

The United States economy has always required racism to effectively function and has depended upon the political process as a lever to make it work.  The insurrection at the United States Capitol and the impending threats of more unrest reflects who we are and have always been as a nation but we can be better than this.  Our reflections of who we are as a nation have historically been largely aspirational but we can make them a reality.  

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance continues the work of dismantling systemic racism and we’re doubling down on our work.  Our NEW mission to “secure sustainable power, ensure agency and provide security for African Descendants of Slavery, while embracing their history and preserving their culture is unapologetic and true to the challenge of this time   Our work involves a thoughtful and intentional effort of outreach and education, community initiatives and platform and policy that serves to dismantle systemic racism. We know that our work has produced change in Vermont and has provided the groundwork for the work that has followed.  We will continue this working unrelenting and ask that you join us in this stand.  Please watch our site and calendar for upcoming events and initiatives, updates on Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E. and A.C.T., our  Statewide Policy Platform. 

As always, your financial support is appreciated.  

Give here.

Thanks for giving.

Vermont Racial Justice Alliance Leadership and Team 

We who believe in freedom cannot rest …

Join us to Protect the Results of the 2020 Election

Today, we vote. At the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance we’re voting for a future where BIPOC lives are valued and empowered.

Everyone counts. Every vote counts. And every vote must be counted. These are values we all hold, and they are not negotiable.

That’s why we’ve joined a coalition of other Vermont organizations to Protect the Results, a movement to defend our democracy in the wake of this tumultuous election. Learn more here: https://www.protecttheresultsvt.org/.

Should victory be declared before all the votes are counted or actions taken to intimidate or prevent the legitimate counting of votes, Vermonters will be ready to mobilize. 

Join us on Saturday, November 7 at noon for a Rally to Protect the Results in Montpelier. Mark Hughes, coordinator of the Racial Justice Alliance, will be among the speakers. Please sign up here if you plan to attend.

In these uncertain times, it’s hard to know what might come after election day. We need to be prepared to join together in huge numbers all across the nation to demand every vote is counted and the results of the election accepted.

We are proud to be in coalition Rights and Democracy VT, VPIRG, The Battery Park Movement, The Black Perspective, and many others who are dedicated to protecting the results of the 2020 election.

Response to Mayor Miro Weinberger’s Appointment of Director of Police Transformation & “Five New Actions on Policing”

By Mark Hughes & Members of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance remains committed to the work of implementing Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E. as articulated and in the June 29th, Burlington City Council Resolution. Restructuring public safety, Implementing cultural empowerment, Securing equal opportunity and Enabling racial equity inclusion and belonging are ALL still our priorities.  The  Mayor’s recent appointment of a new Police Transformation Director (The Director) and his “Five Additional Actions on Policing” are problematic, primarily because they don’t go beyond restructuring public safety. The work of dismantling symbolic systemic racism in city government requires a commitment that extends beyond social and political differences on policing.  True commitment must be given to addressing the whole of government and the cultural and economic dimensions outlined in R.I.S.E.   

Another shortcoming of the Mayor’s approach is that the planning and appointment was done bilaterally with the Burlington police Department, at the exclusion of the Racial Justice Alliance, the BIPOC-led Battery Park Protesters, the City Council, the Joint Committee of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee and Police Commission, the Public Safety Committee, the Change Charter Committee and the Police Commission “the other stakeholders”.  This approach circumvented and undermines the inclusive and earnest efforts of the other stakeholders that are advancing the ongoing work.  The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, the BIPOC-led Battery Park Protesters, and the community have been in good faith providing continuous input to the Joint Police Commission and Public Safety Committee on ensuring public engagement, a functional assessment of the Police Department and re-envisioning of public health and safety.  

Our concerns surrounding the Mayor’s “Five New Actions on Policing” are material, beyond process. The “Five New Actions on Policingcollectively create executive cover for the Burlington Police Department. These solutions supplant the Police Commission’s authority; close out other stakeholders; create false deadlines; set dangerous precedents; and pass the buck.

  • The Executive Order supplants the Police Commission’s recently released policy and their authority in the complaint process and delays their visibility into related complaints until late in the process.
  • The decision to assign the City Attorney to work with the Police Officers Association (POA) to review the contract closes other important stakeholders out of the discussions, potentially jeopardizing the ability to have a more robust and meaningful engagement.  With a contract till June 2022, the November deadline is unnecessary.
  • The recommendation for the Police Commission to approve body camera footage release policy is top loaded. A “Concepts and Principles” document was pre-prepared by the Deputy Chief, the Mayor and the City Attorney with another unnecessary deadline (end of October).
  • The proposal for the Community Service Liaison in the form of social workers in the police department creates a dangerous precedent and blurs the line between policing and social services at a time when community members are asking for clearer separation of roles.
  • The proposal for the Police Commission to create a policy for release of investigations into officer conduct passes the buck on work that clearly should be addressed through a full outside assessment of the department and engagement with the POA and City Attorney.

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance has been working in good faith with all of the other stakeholders, including the Police Department and the Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging Director to ensure the full implementation of Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E.  The Mayor’s bilateral work with the Burlington Police Department in the creation of the Director position and “Five New Actions on Policing” does not indicate his willingness to do the same.  

The mission of Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E. is to transform the lives of black and brown people by investing in their lives, holding space for their culture, providing them opportunity and ensuring the equity they deserve to thrive.  All of the work that we are doing started as a result of a double pandemic – COVID-19 and ongoing murder and violence of BIPOC at the hands of the Police. Police violence against BIPOC with impunity is a symptom of a larger sickness of a nation.  We must heal the sickness while we address the symptom.

We will continue to do our work with the City of Burlington in good faith. We implore the Mayor to show himself as a fully committed and trustworthy partner in the work of protecting BIPOC bodies; focus on the “I, S and E” in R.I.S.E. with urgency; and collaborate with the other stakeholders to synthesize his approach to comport to and support the work already underway.

Veto Request on Cannabis Taxation and Regulation Bill, S.54

Dear Jason, Rebecca, and Xusana,

Please find attached a letter to Governor Scott, signed on behalf of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, urging him to veto S.54 upon arrival.  This bill has been flawed from start to finish and not only ignores the Administration’s opportunity to repair harm and ensure equity but is also actually harmful to African Americans of Vermont.

We ask that the policy be stopped and the Marijuana Commission be charged with researching effective reparative and equity provisions that provide meaningful measures to address the historical social and economic impact that marajuana has had on African Americans and the current impact of systemic racism on the cannabis industry.

We stand at the ready to continue to offer additional constructive recommendations to address these challenges such as those previously offered.  We appreciate you promptly getting  this letter to the governor and would be happy to answer any questions you or members of your team might have surrounding this matter.  

Here is an active petition with over 460 signatures on the matter.

Sincerely,

Governor Scott,

Please say NO to the taxation and regulation bill, S.54.  This bill has been flawed from start to finish and not only ignores the government’s responsibility to repair harm and ensure equity but also actually is harmful to African Americans of Vermont.  With little or no access to land or capital, Black Vermonters are most severely impacted by this policy.  S.54 also harms small growers by giving medical dispensaries sole access to integrated licenses and a jumpstart on market access. The bill does not consider cannabis cultivation agriculture, excluding most land and infrastructure in agricultural easements and current use, and most farmers from having equitable access to this crop and a market that could support their farm income. Further:

  1. No research was conducted by the Marijuana Commission on the historical adverse impact of marijuana on African Americans or the impact of systemic racism on the cannabis industry (they did provide reports on Taxation and Regulation, Road Safety and Education).
  2. Despite proposals from racial justice and emerging grower advocates there has been no significant language to address the historical impact, industry systemic racism or disadvantage that small farmers suffer in this market.
  3. The House and the Conference Committee ignored numerous requests to provide adequate reparative and equity language.
  4. Symbolic gestures including the passage of a separate expungement bill, mild licensing concessions and Cannabis Control Board appointments do little to address the true harm or provide equitable opportunity.
  5. The fact that the bill calls for the Cannabis Control Board (yet to be created) to provide recommendations to the legislature to address reparative and equity language indicates that they have not done their homework.
  6. Access to the final discussions that concluded the Conference Committee was not even made available to the public resulting in our discovery of the final agreement by way of out-of-state pro-policy lobbyists.  

S.54 fails to address in any significant way the devastating historical social and economic impact of marijuana on African Americans, the current impact of systemic racism on the cannabis industry or the disadvantages of emerging growers!  In short, Black people and small farmers are not made whole and fail to economically benefit from this bill.  Again.  Even now, in what is a national racial reckoning, we’re still doing this.  The passage of this bill exacerbates the economic oppression of Black folks who already have a median wealth of 1/13th that of white people.  This is wrong and we all know that it is wrong. 

It is reprehensible that despite a double pandemic that is exacerbating the impact of systemic racism on Black and Brown bodies that this policy is on your desk. It makes no sense that small farmers would also be disadvantaged by big industry.  Please use this as an opportunity to communicate that placing profit over Black and otherwise economically disadvantaged Vermonters ends here. Please veto this policy to give us the opportunity to ensure that it addresses harm and provides everyone an opportunity to thrive.  Charge the Marijuana Commission to provide the analysis to enable a data-driven approach in shaping just and equitable tax and regulate legislation.

Respectfully,



Mark Hughes,
Executive Director,
Justice For All
Coordinator,
Vermont Racial Justice Alliance