It’s summertime, and racism is bustin’ out all over

Perhaps in honor of our nation’s birthday, there’s quite a bit of sobering news for those who believe that Vermont is above all this racism stuff because, well, we’re Vermont!

Actually, I’d compare us to Scandinavian countries before the first waves of darker-skinned immigrants. They didn’t have racism because there wasn’t any reason for it to spring forth. But you add in some brown people — or even the idea of adding in some brown people — and boy howdy, turns out your attic is full of spiders.

We have, of course, the ongoing disgrace in Rutland, where opponents of setting 100 Syrian refugees might go so far as to eject the best damn mayor their city has ever had. And don’t try to sell me that the anti-refugee contingent are upset over process. That’s an excuse. No, they’re afraid of dark-skinned people wearing heebie-jabbies.

Exhibits B and C are separate reports detailing “stark racial disparities in Vermont policing and incarceration,” per VTDigger; Exhibit D is a series of truly disturbing incidents of racism in, of all places, Craftsbury — the summer home of Bill “Spaceman” Lee and an epicenter of Northeast Kingdom counterculture.

And the cherry on top of this shit sundae: Governor Shumlin urging federal authorities not to harass or “hassle” members of the Rainbow Family Gathering. I wonder if he’d express the same sentiment if it was, say, a Hip-Hop Nation event at Mount Tabor.

Call me cynical, but I doubt it.

And there are perfectly valid reasons for the cops to keep an eye on the Gathering. The vast majority of the Rainbows are peaceful folk, but there are outliers taking advantage of the situation. A 2014 Gathering in Utah resulted in at least one suspicious death, one stabbing, and a number of drug overdoses.

“Of the problems that we’ve seen at the Rainbow Gathering, nudity is the least of our worries,” said Dave Whittekiend, the US Forest Service supervisor for the Uinta-Wasatch Cache National Forest, where this year’s gathering is being held. The big concerns, he added, are “drugs and violence.”

There have been instances of overly aggressive police tactics in Vermont, but law enforcement does have an obligation to keep the peace, even it that might mean the occasional “hassle,” man.

Back to Exhibit B.

A new analysis of Vermont State Police data shows that racial disparities in traffic stops have increased in the five years from 2011 to 2015.

VSP had done its own analysis of the data, but it aggregated the figures for the entire five-year period. The new study looks at year-to-year figures, and discovered that the Driving While Black situation is getting worse, not better. This, in spite of VSP instituting new training procedures for its troopers.

Hey, Governor, maybe you could tell your troopers to stop “hassling” black motorists. The problem’s gotten worse under your watch.

The new study also found that some VSP barracks had higher racial disparities than others. “This is not good news,” commented State Police Captain Ingrid Jones.

Indeed.

Some state troopers apparently subscribe to the Paul LePage Theory of Policing:

“These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty, these types of guys. They come up here, they sell their heroin, and they go back home,” LePage said. “Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave…”

The latter point seemed to have occupied the mind of former Vermont trooper Lewis Hatch, who was fired earlier this year after a series of incidents in which he stopped vehicles containing a black man and a white woman.

Hatch is appealing his dismissal, which means we might still end up with this mook patrolling our highways and “hassling” mixed-race couples once again.

The racial disparity in traffic stops might be understandable given our very real problem with drug importation from big cities to our south, except for a funny thing. Turns out that contraband is discovered less often in black motorists’ cars than in those driven by white people.

How ‘bout that. Not all the drug traffickers are named D-Money.

On to Exhibit C: The Sentencing Project has a new report that found Vermont has one of the highest racial disparities in incarceration rates.

One out of 14 black men in Vermont are incarcerated, the highest rate in the United States. Blacks are incarcerated at a rate of 2,357 per 100,000 residents, versus 253 per 100,000 residents for white people, third highest of any state.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell, as usual, issued a kneejerk defense of the cops and the courts, wondering aloud if the police were guilty of overt racism or merely (cough) “subconscious racial bias.” As if that was any better.

As for courts and prosecutors, Sorrell blithely assures us that “he’s not aware of any racial bias on the part of Vermont prosecutors, judges or juries when it comes to convicting and sentencing defendants.”

Yeah, well, Bill Sorrell is famous for not being aware of stuff. I guess he doesn’t read Seven Days; last November, it reported on the case of a first-time drug offender getting a ten-year sentence — later overturned by the state Supreme Court. His conviction came after the judge in his case gave the jury some disturbingly racist instructions about how the community had a real problem with drug dealers coming north from “Brooklyn and Bed-Stuy.”

The judge’s name is Nancy Corsones, not Paul LePage, but same diff. Somebody should inform Our Eternal General.

And we finish our Festival of Racial Ignominy with Exhibit D. It comes to us from good old Craftsbury, which has been the site of a string of racist incidents, including a truly creepy and disturbing one that happened last December.

A Craftsbury resident was returning home from work in the evening when he found a 5-gallon bucket near his apartment containing a dog food bag stuffed with a bloodied, dead black cat. The bucket was left near a recently erected Black Lives Matter sign.

The couple who lived at the apartment called the Vermont State Police, but the issue was dropped.

“Dropped,” eh? Just like that?

Thanks, Defenders of the Peace. I’d hate for you to “hassle” someone who killed a cat and left it on a doorstep as an apparent racist warning.

The couple found their door locks tampered with a few days later, and eventually moved away.

Sounds more like 1962 Selma, Alabama than Good Old Craftsbury.

There are other, less disturbing, offenses on the Craftsbury docket. There have been two incidents of vandalism on the Sterling College campus that appear to have been inspired by virulently anti-gay sentiment, and “several other incidents involving Black Lives Matter signs.”

This is the kind of thing you might expect in one of our more benighted precincts, not in a community renowned as an outpost of progressive thought.

Not to besmirch the good people of Craftsbury, many of whom are fully as progressive as advertised. The lesson we should take from this is, there can be a bad apple in any bushel.

And, more broadly, we are far from immune from the social ills that inflict American society. Indeed, our alleged tolerance has never really been tested.

Perhaps the first test is underway right now in Rutland. I hope we pass.

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7 thoughts on “It’s summertime, and racism is bustin’ out all over

  1. walter h moses

    Having lived on the southside of Chicago, 2 blocks south of the Midway in the 1960s I learned very quickly that I liked a diverse neighborhood and I really could care less about any ethnic origins. That being said, I find secrecy in government and among families to be offensive with certain exceptions. Christmas and birthday presents and development of nuclear weapons I suppose would be among the exceptions.

    “the best damn mayor their city has ever had”

    If we are talking about Rutland, hardly. Secrecy in this instance was stupid, as I believe the Mayor has admitted. All of the ensuing uprising could have been avoided with a bit of discussion and yes, it is the process that created the problem. From the rarified air of Montpelier, I can see your slanted perspective.
    The people of Rutland are among the best, and are reasonably diverse to begin with. Give them a little respect and information and they will show their tolerance and cooperation.

    You know, as the Amish say, “you’ve got to be careful out there among the English”.

    Heebie jabbies? Do you mean heebie jeebies? Did I miss something?

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Heebie Jabbies: woman at a Trump rally in NH said she was concerned about Muslim TSA agents wearing “heebie jabbies” and asked DJT if we couldn’t staff security gates with military vets instead of, you know, brown people.

      Reply
  2. NanuqFC

    There was the famous “Irasburg Incicdent,” here retold by author Howard Frank Mosher in an interview last year with The Valley News:

    “There’s the house where the black minister lived,” Mosher said, pointing to a beautifully restored Victorian home on the main road in Irasburg that had been owned by a minister and his wife, a couple who had escaped the Watts Riots in southern California during the summer of 1965 to move to a safer place to raise their children.

    “And they shot the buckshot right through that front window. It hit the back of the chair his wife was sitting in. The whole family was watching television. They were lucky they weren’t killed.”

    The shooting, called “The Irasburg Incident,” saw the minister charged and the night-riders forgiven and showed the ugly underbelly of the area’s racism and became the basis for Mosher’s 1989 book A Stranger in the Kingdom.

    And then there was the KKK recruiting drive in Vermont, not just the abortive one in Burlington this year, but the much more successful one that gave the Klan a strong presence here in the 1920s (see http://vermonthistory.org/research/research-resources-online/green-mountain-chronicles/the-k-k-k-in-vermont-1924). There being so few blacks here to terrorize, the effort was mainly aimed at intimidating Jews and Catholics.

    The point being that this kind of thing, including law enforcement’s prejudiced response, has been going on for a long time. And there’s a lot that has been written over the years about racism in Vermont. Problem being, the stories and data don’t sink in if they doesn’t seem to directly affect you or someone you know. Point being, law enforcement, legislators, judges, prosecutors and all should be listening to and believing the lived-and-told experiences of the people most affected.

    Reply
  3. Acarn

    Im hoping that rutland pushes aside the racists who are yelling and screaming about the refugees, they have no legitimate concern with them except “ew brown people” the refugees will help enhance vermont, help keep our average age lower, and provide a hopeful boom to our stagnating population. FIght on Mr Mayor.

    Reply
    1. Faith Biggs King

      I agree. Remember when Governor Shumlin let slip that Vermont might offer shelter to undocumented minors – unaccompanied by adults – picked up at our southern border? I made the mistake of wading into a ‘discussion’ on WCAX. Whew. The shrieking: ‘we can’t afford these kids!’ and ‘take care of our own!’ Followed by comments comparing S. American children to vermin and suggesting they were all, in fact, drug mules. Since posts were made via Facebook, one intellect – a fella from the western side of the state, had a picture of himself with the bottom half of his face covered. Holding a gun. I fully understand why Mayor Louras might make this decision without a lot of fanfare and, ahem, public comment. After all, why, pray tell, does he need ‘public comment’ on whether to welcome Syrian refugees to the city? It’s not an infrastructure project, after all.

      Reply
      1. Acarn

        It always amuses me how these people never seem to care about the homeless or “our own” until we want to help peope from the middle east, then the right suddenly decides they care about poor people

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