All the Tropes, All the Dog Whistles

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.


5 thoughts on “All the Tropes, All the Dog Whistles

  1. Albert Reyes McCarver


    With all due respect the extremities of paranoia that is embedded in this screed is a prime example of the hate and ire that makes us all tired of politics. I don’t know what you have not read or observed in national statistics as of late but we are under a national growth in violence and violent crime in America. This isn’t a dystopian anti left observation or some restrospective to years of the past but a reality of the present and future. It’s causes are entirely different and it’s underpinnings are more complicated than you describe. Secondly, please don’t insult the people of my county; we don’t look at Burlington that way. Don’t demean Detroit and don’t demean the Queen City. Mr DiSabito’s postings didn’t do that—you did. I think your projections are misguided and I think your inferences about his postings are just that—YOURS. I am a small business owner, I am not rich, im just busting my behind and I am glad I have someone like Doug DiSabito who is connected to the reality we live than the fantasy we don’t. So please stop inferring and personally attacking someone. That is not how we resolve things in America. This is evidence of Trumptonian behavior—-rant and rave vs try to look at the facts making everything personal. There is no need for this in politics—it comes across as exactly what it is an irrational rant Riddled w inappropriate crass language simply to invoke shock.

    Albert Reyes-McCarver
    Proud resident of Grand Isle County and Supporter of Doug Disibato

    1. Bryan Bullis

      You say your background is in journalism. According to the American Press Association, Journalism’s first obligation is to the TRUTH. While I recognize that this is a blog, you should still be ashamed of yourself for this defamatory, malicious, & irresponsible “screed” written only to provoke and incite shock and hatred.

      State Attorney Disabito did not depict {namely, to describe in words; portray} Burlington as “as a lawless hellhole with gunfights & stickups around every corner and no home safe from invasion.” YOU DID.

      During a recent BURLINGTON Police Department Press Conference, a statistic screen was shown, entitled “Public Safety Challenge—2022 YTD vs 5 Year Average” which disclosed that Robberies are up 11%, Burglaries are up 41%, Aggravated Assaults are up 50%, Larcenies {all types} are up 106%, Gunfire is up 500%, & Stolen Vehicles are up 564%. I would say this DOES equate to a place being “dangerous”. It appears, based upon these statistics, that State Attorney Disabito’s “rant” {as you characterize it}, has indeed some legitimate “basis of reality”.

      You ABSOLUTELY called Disabito a racist by saying “his letter is chock full of racist-adjacent sentiment” & calling him a “racist-adjacent lummox”. Here’s how:

      1. Racist-adjacent is defined as “An individual who while not directly exhibiting racist tendencies themselves, can oftentimes be found championing, befriending, and socializing with those who do.”

      2. Sentiment is defined as “A view of or attitude toward a situation or event; an opinion”.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if you could be held liable for DEFAMATION. Recently, the Lehigh County PA District Attorney settled a defamation lawsuit against a local blogger for slandering him. Let that sink in before you again press “publish” so irresponsibly and maliciously.

      You criticize State Attorney Disabito for proudly stating he stands with all law enforcement, business owners and their staff. You must know that a State Attorney is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer for their district—OF COURSE he stands with them. However, had you done your due diligence, you would have DISCOVERED that State Attorney Disabito recently successfully prosecuted a Vermont trooper for assault. Had you done your due diligence, you would have DISCOVERED that State Attorney Disabito is at this moment prosecuting a former Winooski police officer. Had you done your due diligence you would have DISCOVERED that State Attorney Disabito was tapped to investigate an officer-involved shooting in Woodstock. How do I know all this? It has ALL been in the news & can be found on the internet.

      You are incorrect when you assert that State Attorney Disabito has “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.” Were you to do your homework, you would REALIZE that State Attorney Disabito was invited to & attended an Isle la Motte selectboard meeting to show his support & solidarity. Were you to do your homework, you would DISCOVER that one of those victims, contrary to your published assertion, IS INDEED A BUSINESS—Sandy Bottom Farm—one of those agricultural farms who have an honor stand—the type of business you slammed State Attorney Disabito for, for caring about them when they are the subject of a theft & for prosecuting the thieves. Were you to do your homework, you would FIND OUT that Disabito is Vermont’s first openly GAY elected State Attorney—how dare you say he is not paying attention to hate crimes targeting the LGBTQ+ community in Grand Isle County. Again, do the research. It is ALL in the news.

      State Attorney Disabito did successfully prosecute a habitual offender for burglarizing a residence & stealing firearms. Again with Google, I did my own research. A jury found the defendant guilty. Within a month or so from being released, the defendant was charged with committing both a felony Retail Theft in Williston {according to Disabito’s letter} & later a Home Invasion & Assault in Swanton. Do your research–here is a link:

      You state that Sarah George’s office handled the case in a way that irked State Attorney Disabito & she chose a path of finding a way to help the defendant straighten up. That path was REJECTING the case for prosecution from the Williston police department. With absolutely no intervention, how is that helping the defendant to–as you say–“straighten up”? Seriously!

      Finally, you say that Disabito’s letter is an overwrought embarrassment & shows that Grand Isle could do a lot better in a state’s attorney. I checked the SOS website & for the THIRD time, State Attorney Disabito received the nominations of BOTH the Democratic & Republican parties in a Vermont primary. Grand Isle County, where I have been a resident for 24 years, is PROUD to have Doug Disabito as our State Attorney. Get your facts straight before you hit “submit” & publish what one reader rightly called your post—an irrational rant, riddled with inappropriate crass language simply to invoke shock. It is no wonder you were forced to RESIGN from Seven Days in 2019 and FIRED from VTDigger in 2020. How do I know that? I used Google again. If anybody should be embarrassed, it should be YOU, John S. Walters. Your next blog post should be a retraction and apology to Disabito & Grand Isle County. What an irresponsible and hateful “screed” from a tarnished & discredited former-journalist.


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