Got a little news bomb in my inbox today from the Vermont ACLU. They’re announcing a federal lawsuit that, if true, frankly beggars belief.
The gist: A year and a half ago, the Brattleboro Police Department
arrested cited* local resident Isabel Vinson for the “crime” of writing a Facebook post critical of a local business owner. The charge, per Vermont law: “disturbing peace by use of telephone or other electronic communications.”
*Correction: Cited, not arrested.
Is this the same law that Attorney General TJ Donovan refused to enforce against racist, anti-Semitic goon Max Misch for waging a campaign of social-media hate directed at Kiah Morris? Donovan’s reasoning was that a prosecution would run afoul of the First Amendment.
That happened in January 2019. Vinson was cited in July 2020. I guess somebody didn’t get the memo.
To sum up: You can’t be charged for repeatedly engaging in vile, threatening, racist speech, but you can be for once criticizing a business owner? Huh. I guess justice is blind.
The ACLU identifies Vinson as a Black Lives Matter supporter. Its account of her heinous offense:
In June 2020, days after the police murder of George Floyd, a Brattleboro business owner posted on his personal Facebook page, “How about all lives matter…Put your race card away and grow up.” In response, Plaintiff Vinson posted on her own Facebook page, “Disgusting…no matter how many people try and tell him it’s wrong he doesn’t seem to care.” In the comments on her post, Vinson also recommended that others leave a review on the individual’s business page.
The BPD changed course after the ACLU filed a public records request on the case. It first offered Vinson diversion in exchange for dropping the charge. When she rightly refused, it dropped the case entirely.
So the police were dumb enough to initiate the case, but smart enough to drop it when they got caught.
The federal lawsuit targets the state law as being “vague and exceedingly broad in scope.” You know, the law Donovan refused to invoke in a far more egregious case.
Morris’ words on the occasion of Donovan’s abandonment are worth recalling:
“We did everything that we were told to do. Reported as we should, held nothing back, and trusted in a system that in the end was insufficient and inept at addressing and repairing the harm done. In the end we were told there was nothing to be done. Essentially our current legal system told us that what was happening was acceptable.”
Honestly, I’m a little surprised that the law is still on the books. If it’s so unconstitutional that it was useless against the likes of Max Misch, then it has no business continuing to exist. You know, if Donovan had prosecuted Misch, one of two things would have happened. He would have won the case, or the law would have been thrown out and we wouldn’t be going through this mess today.
At the time, Donovan was worried about wasting state resources on a doomed prosecution. Well, now his office is going to have to defend that same law in court. The money he saved by letting Misch off the hook, he’s going to spend on this lawsuit.
Donovan could have tried to avoid all this trouble if he’d advised law enforcement not to enforce the law and urged the Legislature to repeal or replace it. Maybe that’s too much to expect from our Beacon O’ Justice.