Calls for major reform flood into Burlington Police Commission meeting

Local News

BURLINGTON, Vt. – On the day of George Floyd’s funeral, the discussion around police reform and systemic racism continued to grow locally and in cities across the nation.

The Burlington Police Commission was scheduled to discuss an updated draft of the department’s use of force policy Tuesday evening, but the remote meeting’s public comment session alone took roughly four hours.

Well over 70 people called in to speak, the majority of them calling on leaders to meet the demands of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance.

“The police, including the Burlington Police Department, have consistently proven that they are not capable of doing their jobs without resorting to violence, and they’re not interested in learning how,” said Electra Shaw. “It’s time to transition to new modes of public safety.”

The meeting happened just after thousands gathered in Houston to remember George Floyd at a funeral service.

Steffen Gillom, president of the Windham Area NAACP, said he hopes Floyd’s emotional memorial was an awakening for white people in positions of power to do more.

“I hope that they look at these people’s words, they look at these visuals, they look at the amount of pain and hurt that has coursed through multiple people’s bodies regardless of their race, and they note that it’s time for structural change,” Gillom said.

The growing call from local alliances and other citizens to defund police departments has been met with a tepid response from elected officials. Instead, they’ve expressed a will to improve use of force policies and other protocols.

Rutland Area NAACP President Tabitha Moore said there are some reforms that should have broad support.

“If and when we get law enforcement at the table with the community and the legislature, we’re going to find that there’s actually a lot of common ground on certain things,” Moore said. “Law enforcement will tell you that the demand on what they’re supposed to be doing with their time is too much to handle. Okay let’s talk about what that means then.”

As people weigh in during public comment periods of city council, police commission and board of finance meetings, nationwide protests over Floyd’s death continue.

While that particular incident of police brutality sparked the sweeping protests, both Moore and Gillom emphasized that centuries of injustice and systemic racism need to be at the forefront of the national conversation as well.

“Not just here in Vermont, but around the U.S. and even around the globe, this is a mass call for civil rights action,” Moore said. “Our papers report on rioting and looting, whereas the rest of the world is seeing it as an uprising.”

“The entire spectrum of Black America, and from the protests that we’ve seen globally, black people worldwide – there needs to be a recognition of the collective trauma we’ve gone through,” Gillom said.

The Burlington Police Commission’s meeting, including the discussion on use of force policy, will resume on Wednesday at 6 pm.

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