Ah, Bennington. Gateway to southern Vermont. Scrappy little town with loads of history. A downtown worth an afternoon’s ramble. The Blue Benn Diner. Bakkerij Krijnen.
And a police department that may be the most racist in Vermont.
And a town government that steadfastly, blindly supports its racist police.
This time, the cops and the town have literally chased an interracial couple out of town. And the couple, with the help of the Vermont ACLU, has filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission.
Will this get Bennington’s attention? Eh, probably not. After all, the town has continued to support its police department after a Black man was railroaded to prison only to have his conviction overturned, having the cops’ racist approach to traffic enforcement documented by a UVM researcher, and seeing a consultant hired by the town describe a “warrior mentality” in the BPD that had “sown deep mistrust” between community and cops.
The details of the latest case, as reported by Seven Days’ Derek Brouwer, are grim.
In the weeks after Joel Fowler and Cassandra Keating moved to Bennington in April of 2020, Fowler was pulled over by police time after time after time. The police also actively spread rumors about him, based on the fact that he served prison time in New York for a murder he didn’t commit (and leaving out the inconvenient fact that he was exonerated). In late May, Keating submitted a complaint to the BPD alleging repeated incidents of “racially motivated targeting, harassment, surveillance, and vilification of her family.”
You can probably guess how that went. The department concluded that it was blameless after an investigation of dubious thoroughness, and the town select board sided with their cops.
And then the board published (in Brouwer’s words) “extensive amounts of personal information” about the couple, potentially exposing them to harassment and retaliation. We are, after all, talking about the town that gave us Max Misch.
The town says the release was in line with an “unwritten policy.” Well, isn’t that convenient. Keating and Fowler and the ACLU say it’s a violation of state public records law, which provides an exemption for personal information about anyone who files a complaint against a public body.
Considering that “unwritten policy” nonsense, my money’s on the ACLU here.
Keating and Fowler left Bennington last summer. So I guess town leaders got the resolution they wanted.
If you think that’s unfair, well, they repeatedly went out of their way to either harass the couple or expose them to harassment. They sure gave Keating and Fowler no reason to believe they were welcome additions to the community.
There are plenty of good-hearted people in Bennington. When I ask one of them about the BPD, I get a response that mingles embarrassment and impotence in roughly equal measure. This is a goddamn shame, especially when one of those good people is Sen. Dick Sears, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and ardent pursuer of justice in the law. Well, outside of his home town, anyway.
After all this history, I have to conclude that the town of Bennington, which I love to visit, may be the most officially racist community in Vermont. It is a stain on Vermont’s reputation. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to clean house.
Or have someone else clean it up for them.