I am not bound by the journalistic tradition of staying away from political reporting while the polls are open, and there are a couple things I’m itching to write about: Whether Molly Gray is burning every available bridge in the desperate closing days of her campaign, and how Ted Kenney’s stand on substance abuse reveals him to be unqualified for the position he seeks.
But Gray and Kenney won’t be relevant much longer, and Kenney’s statement is only the second stupidest I’ve seen from a Vermont lawyer this week.
Number one with a (metaphorical) bullet is Grand Isle State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito’s letter depicting Burlington as a lawless hellhole with gunfights and stickups around every corner and no home safe from invasion. The letter he was so proud of that he posted it on Twitter. Good God.
I was 13 years old in 1967. Two years earlier, my family had moved from the placid provinces of western Michigan to a Detroit suburb. Then the ’67 riots happened.
It was an upscale burb, but we lived only seven miles away from the Detroit border. My mom kind of freaked out, believing (as many suburbanites did) that the angry hordes would tire of burning their own neighborhoods and storm en masse up Woodward Avenue, looting and trashing their way through White Folks World.
It didn’t happen, but a remnant of those days remained: a corner of our basement where my mom loaded up the shelves with nonperishable food. You know, to keep us fed in case the supermarkets were all destroyed, deliveries stopped coming, and bands of you-know-who were terrorizing the neighborhoods.
It was serious at the time and more than a little racist, but eventually it became a reserve pantry, a useful add-on to our tiny kitchen.
I see the rotten, fearful spirit of those days in DiSabito’s letter. It’s not pretty.
The bad begins with the tweet accompanying the letter: “I stand with all law enforcement, business owners and their staff.” That’s one hell of a list of priorities.
Judging by the fact that DiSabito has been SA for seven years and has never written a single Brady letter, it seems that he’s serious about standing with “all law enforcement.”
But that’s not his job. Well, it shouldn’t be. He’s supposed to take cases and evidence supplied by the police and then exercise his own judgment. As Dick Wolf tells you every damn week, “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups. The police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.”
Two separate groups.
Let’s get to the letter itself, Lord help us.
It was written on July 25 and sent to Sens. Thomas Chittenden and Kesha Ram Hinsdale, but cwas learly meant to be made public as an attack on Chittenden County SA Sarah Fair George. DiSabito launched his rant by recalling that he used to work in Burlington but “I am so thankful I don’t work there anymore — it has become a dangerous place since then.”
Hm. DiSabito last worked in Burlington from 2012-14. Fortuitously for us, not so much for him, Seven Days recently published a deep dive on crime trends in the Queen City. The money quote: “…overall, the volume of crime remains well below what it was a decade ago, having dropped by nearly a third since 2012. Of the crimes that did increase since the police cuts, most went up only slightly, and the majority were nonviolent offenses.”
Maybe DiSabito honestly believes that Burlington “has become a dangerous place” since he skedaddled, but the numbers show it simply isn’t true.
Now, what might be true is that there are more people of color in Burlington than there were 10 or 20 years ago. I would not accuse DiSabito of being racist, but his letter is chock full of racist-adjacent sentiment. It must have gone over well with Sen. Ram Hinsdale.
Onward. DiSabito then writes how it was “extremely disheartening” to hear legislative testimony by Burlington business owners about their struggles with crime. Then he said that “Retail Theft must be taken seriously by prosecutors,” and threw an elbow in Sarah Fair George’s side by characterizing her policy as giving “a hug and treatment” in lieu of punishment.
Aside from the blatant mischaracterization of George’s policies, there’s this: if Burlington is such a crime-ridden wasteland, then George shouldn’t be wasting her time on shoplifters. She’d have to focus on all the murders and shootings and knifings and assaults.
DiSabito then showed where his priorities lie by bragging about prosecuting a guy for “stealing a lighter from Dollar General in Alburgh.”
Must have a lot of spare time up there in Grand Isle. Although not enough time to pay attention to a series of hate crimes on Isle La Motte. But then, the victims aren’t businesses, so I guess that’s okay.
And now we arrive at the burr in DiSabito’s saddle. He’d successfully prosecuted an habitual offender in another case only to see the judge impose a much shorter prison term than DiSabito had recommended. The offender re-offended shortly after his release, and then committed one of those dreaded Retail Thefts in Williston. George’s office handled the case in a way that irked DiSabito.
Now, here’s the thing. Whether that offender had gone to prison for one year or ten, he would likely have reoffended at his earliest opportunity. With people like this, you have two choices: Lock ’em up for life, or find a way to help them straighten up. George’s office chose the latter path.
Then we get another anecdote about crime run rampant: A Chittenden County father and son who drove up to Grand Isle (how DARE they) and stole some cash and vegetables from a farmstand. Those veggies, DiSabito argued, represented “hours and hours of back-breaking work of (sic) hard-working farmers.”
I think this guy needs to cut back on the caffeine. Maybe his act plays well in Grand Isle, where many residents probably look on Burlington with the kind of foreboding that the ’67 riots inspired in the hearts of suburban Detroiters.
Argh. Two points in closing.
First, despite the rampant crime and violence bedeviling the Queen City, housing prices are through the goddamn roof and there’s a drastic shortage of rental stock. Reminds me of how Yogi Berra allegedly said of a popular nightclub, “It’s so crowded, nobody goes there anymore.”
If DiSabito’s rant had any basis in reality, people would be fleeing Burlington in droves. Homes and buildings, as in Detroit, would sit vacant and slowly decay. The population would plummet.
Second, I still love going back to southeast Michigan and spending time in Detroit. There’s a lot of great stuff there. And the vast majority of people never experience crime. Even in Detroit, you really don’t have to fear for your life.
Well, there are streets it’s best not to go down. But even so, Detroit is quite safe for the people who want to enjoy all it has to offer. If DiSabito thinks that Burlington is “a dangerous place,” he’d shit his pants if he were dropped off on a Detroit streetcorner. Perspective, people.
This letter is an overwrought embarrassment. It shows that Grand Isle could do a lot better in a state’s attorney. I hope the voters of Chittenden County thumb their collective noses at this racist-adjacent lummox.