And the Hits Just Keep On Comin’

No sooner did I drop a post featuring five different stories about Vermont’s uneasy relationship with racial issues, than two more appeared in our media.

  • From the Bennington Banner, yet another unfortunate comment from a frequent offender on this subject. (No, not Kevin Hoyt.)
  • From VTDigger, Vermont’s racial equity director issues a damning new report.

The latter is the more impactful, but first let’s pick the low-hanging fruit.

UVM’s Designated Racism Detector, Prof. Stephanie Seguino, reported on racial disparities in Bennington traffic stops. Surprise, surprise, she found that Bennington cops were much more likely to pull you over if you’re black — a perpetual issue for the town’s police department.

The kicker was a quote from town manager Stuart Hurd, a steadfast denier that the P.D. has any racial issues whatsoever.

“Unfortunately the updated study may not have changed its analytics, continues to use census data that does not take into account people traveling in and out of Vermont on a regular basis, and continues to disregard the fact that many departments were incorrectly filling in the information requested on the ticket (no training had been provided by the state when the tickets changed).”

Sheesh.

Okay, let’s take this from the top. The study “may not have changed its analytics”? You don’t know? You’re just throwing stuff against the wall and hoping something sticks.

As for “people traveling in and out of Vermont,” every time I’ve been to Bennington, I never see carloads of black people just passing through. I mean, sure, more outsiders visit communities near the border, but there’s a disturbing undercurrent to Hurd’s phrase. It shows a guy who’s wary of outsiders, especially outsiders of color. And this is the foundational assumption that has created the disparity in traffic stops: That a black person in Bennington might just be a big-city drug dealer plying his trade and victimizing the good townsfolk.

This isn’t quite Paul LePage “D-Money, Smoothie and Shifty” level racism, but Hurd is definitely stereotyping. The town might need to rethink its attachment to Hurd and police chief Paul Doucette, last seen battling an outbreak of Covid-19 in his department.

Now, on to the bad news from Xusana Davis, Vermont’s executive director of racial equity. A new report from her office “paints a dismaying picture of racial equity in the state,” in the words of VTDigger scribe Amanda Gokee.

How dismaying? Pretty damn dismaying. Since the arrival of Covid-19, a new layer of what Davis labeled “xenophobia” has been added to Vermont’s traditional mille feuille of unaddressed racism. Beyond the racial disparities in Covid infections and deaths, the product of “systemic bias” according to Davis, the pandemic has made Vermonters awfully queasy about out-of-staters. And that disproportionately affects motorists of color.

The report also addressed something we already know: People of color who run for elective office become targets of racist abuse that Davis called “harrowing, discouraging and troubling.”

And the report revealed an apparent bias problem in state government hiring and retention. “Applicants of color made up 12.3% of total applicants, but only 6% of hires,” according to Davis. And those who get hired are likely to be paid less and occupy lower positions — and more likely to leave their jobs — than white employees.

It’s discouraging stuff. But it’s better to know about the scope of a problem than to blithely assume we haven’t got one, which is our usual posture.

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