Category Archives: justice and corrections

Maybe This Will Make Democrats Stop Voting for Phil Scott. Eh, Probably Not.

This is the elevated “thoughts and prayers” statement posted on Gov. Phil Scott’s Twitter feed in the aftermath of the Uvalde, Texas school shooting. It follows a trajectory parallel to statements by other Republicans elsewheres. Scott is more moderate than they are, but not in a way that will make a material difference.

The statement hasn’t aged well, considering that we’ve seen two Vermont schools locked down following threats of mass shootings in the ensuing two days. In one case, the principal had to postpone a student walkout over gun violence because of the threat of gun violence. If that’s not a Catch-22, I don’t know what is.

Scott says he “struggled to find the words.” I can understand why: He has nothing to offer besides a shattered heart and a wrenched gut, both metaphorical. He has nothing because he wants to do nothing. It’s clear he opposes any further state legislation. Instead, he wants the nation to follow Vermont’s alleged example.

Yeah, that’ll fix it.

Problem is, Vermont isn’t terribly distinguished in this area.

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Inquisition Approves Study of Bastinado Reform

The killing of George Floyd, like the Sandy Hook shootings, were once seen as inflection points. So outrageous they were, that serious criminal justice reform seemed inevitable.

Ha. Ha ha ha. Cough, choke, heave.

On the day of yet another school shooting, we’ve got two stories from here in Vermont that depict, in stark terms, the fading (or faded, if you’re feeling especially doomy, which I am) hopes for real change.

First, we have a depressing VTDigger roundup of this year’s legislative “action” on justice-related bills. Worthy ideas were either consigned to the recycling bin, stripped of all import, or vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott.

Second, we have another spin of the Law Enforcement Merry-Go-Round, as Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling moves on to a much more lucrative position at UVM and his deputy (and former interim Burlington polilce chief) Jennifer Morrison steps in as interim.

I knew this hadn’t been a good year for justice-related legislation, but I hadn’t realized just how bad it was until I read the Digger story. Or as James Lyall, head of the Vermont ACLU, put it, a “long list” of police and justice bills “were either gutted or just defeated outright.”

All followed the well-established pattern. A reform bill is introduced, and the hordes of blue shirts immediately pounce. They are one of the most listened-to lobbies in Montpelier, and they usually get their way. They did, bigly, in 2022.

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The Empire Strikes Back?

Well, that [seemingly] came out of nowhere.

Ted Kenney, an attorney from Williston, told VTDigger he’s thinking about a primary challenge to incumbent Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah Fair George.

Under normal circumstances, this could be labeled “quixotic” but without the raffish charm of the original Quixote. Primarying an incumbent in a race that few people pay any attention to?

Why bother?

Well, I think I know why.

I think he thinks there’s a substantial constituency who prefer a more traditional approach to the office instead of George’s pioneering progressivism. And he may well be right, at least in terms of the power brokers and royal families and business-class donors in the county party.

Kenney’s run, if he makes one, is of a piece with Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s consistent pro-police stance — and whatever touched off the departure of Tyeastia Green, the first director of the Burlington Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging Department (REIB) and the resignation of three of the REIB’s four managers.

If you’d like details about Weinberger’s law-n-order policies, click on the first link. Mark Hughes of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance runs down the ways that Weinberger — once he was safely re-elected with a plurality of the votes in a race against two progressive challengers — laid down the velvet glove in favor of an iron fist.

And he keeps waving the bloody flag, depicting the Queen City as a lawless wasteland whose handful of police officers dare not walk the streets. If Miro thinks that’s smart politics, is it any wonder that Kenney believes he could beat George by running to her right?

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PARKING PANIC!!! And the Reactionary Nature of Local TV News

Local TV news does more than its share of ridiculous things, but this one from WPTZ really got my goat. It’s about the modest changes to North Winooski Avenue approved by Burlington City Council Monday night. And it’s called…

Businesses in Burlington’s Old North End unsure of their future as North Winooski Parking Plan is set to happen

AAAAUUGGGHHH Parking Panic!!!!!!!!

The story, such as it was, quoted two — count ’em, two — Old North End business owners worried about the plan’s reduction of 40 parking spaces along the corridor.

This sort of thing is the red meat of local TV news: Raising fears about the unknown.

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Performative Lawmaking After All

Hey, remember when Senate President Pro Tem (and Congressional candidate) Becca Balint ended legislative efforts to pass a mask mandate? Because Gov. Phil Scott was certain to veto such a bill, she said pursuing the idea would be nothing but a “performative act.” As if it was a bad thing.

Well, late last week the curtain came down on not one, but two “performative acts” that were allowed to go on into the third month of the session before slinking off the stage. Both measures were co-sponsored by Balint and fellow Congressional candidate Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, among others. But most of the opprobrium falls to Balint for two reasons: She’s the boss, and she’s the one who decried performative lawmaking.

The two doomed bills would have established ranked choice voting in Vermont elections and put limits on qualified immunity for law enforcement personnel.

The RCV bill was introduced with great fanfare — and then got dumped into the circular file. Only a single committee hearing was held, and that didn’t happen until last Friday, the deadline day for bills to clear their committees. Not only were Balint and Ram Hinsdale among the eight co-sponsors, but they both appeared in a VPIRG video ad endorsing RCV with some urgency.

I have to say, if the leader of a legislative body feels that strongly about a bill, it would maybe have gotten more consideration. Unless her stance was more performance than substance, that is.

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Sheriffs Are a “Business”? (UPDATED)

You may have thought of county sheriffs as just another arm of law enforcement, with a mission of serving the people. But Vermont Supreme Court Justice Harold Eaton is here to tell you otherwise. From VTDigger’s “Final Reading” for Feb. 11:

…we understand that not only are the sheriffs a law enforcement agency, they’re also a business, and we simply can’t pay as much as the sheriffs can make doing private contract work. That’s just the reality. We will always be outbid on work if it’s going to the highest bidder.”

The sheriffs are “a business.”

Huh. Bet you didn’t know that.

Update. One of my Twitter acquaintances, Jason Mittell, reminds me that Seven Days did an excellent expose on this very subject back in 2018. And yep, nothing’s changed.

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Now it’s the Brattleboro PD’s Turn to Screw Up Collossally

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.”

Wait, what?

*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.

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The Empire Strikes Back on Qualified Immunity

It appears that there will be a push in the state Legislature to end qualified immunity for police officers. Qualified immunity makes it almost impossible to sue officers for use of excessive force; it’s become a target for reformers in the post-George Floyd era of, well, at least talking about police accountability.

It has the support of Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Sears, the single most influential gatekeeper on justice-related legislation. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint is also signed on, another big positive.

Michael Schirling, on the other hand, is here to tell you it’ll happen over his dead body.

At the Tuesday Covid briefing, Gov. Phil Scott fielded a question about ending QI by immediately tossing it to Schirling, his public safety commissioner and former chief of police in Burlington.

Schirling, speaking on behalf of the administration, made his position quite clear.

“We are gravely concerned about the impact of that potential legislation, and we’re working with a variety of partners and stakeholders to craft a cogent and comprehensive assessment for the Legislature of the potential impacts and downsides of proceeding in that fashion.”

You don’t usually get an administration official cranking it all the way up to “gravely concerned” at this point in the session. It’s usually something milder, like “we have concerns, but we’ll see where it goes.” In this case, Darth Schirling has been sent forth by Emperor Philpatine to make sure the bill never sees the light of day.

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Law and Order: Discriminatory Intent

While the bulk of our attention was focused on Dan French’s abject surrender to the Omicron variant, we got hit with a double dose of bad news regarding the equity of our justice system. Or should I say the lack thereof.

The first hit was a study showing that Black people were six times as likely to be jailed in Vermont as white people. The second was the latest installment in a series of studies showing a substantial racial disparity in traffic stops, searches and seizures. Those are, respectively, the endpoint and the beginning of the so-called “justice” system.

Can there be any doubt that we have a big problem in our law-n-order process? Can there be any doubt that Black people are getting the short end of the stick?

Nope.

Well, unless your name is “John Klar,” but more on that later.

Stop me if you’ve seen this movie before. Statistics showing racial disparities are revealed. They are met with furrowed brows and Expressions of Earnest ConcernTM, along with determination to Get To The Bottom Of This. Time passes, another round of statistics is revealed, lather, rinse, repeat. Makes me tired, sad, and mad.

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Low People in High Places: The Latest in Stupid

Apologies from the Veepies Selection Committee, which has been overwhelmed with all the stupid and/or obtuse in our public sphere. I’m sure we missed a few, but here’s a selection featuring a whole lot of misplaced self-regard from those in positions of public trust.

FIrst, the Hey, Look, A Squirrel! Award For Attempted Misdirection goes to Jason Maulucci, spokesthingy for Gov. Phil Scott. When last we met, we were giving chief of staff Jason Gibbs a right roasting for maligning a public health expert who disagrees with the administration. Gibbs all but accused Dartmouth’s Anne Sosin of professional misconduct, saying she was “desperate to prove a false narrative” and that her analysis “conceals the full truth.” Those are serious things to say about an academic’s work product.

Maulucci, when asked for comment by VTDigger, defended Gibbs by ignoring the personal criticism of Sosin. Gibbs had merely “presented data from a neutral data tool” according to Jason Junior, who concluded with “There is nothing uncivil about pointing out facts.”

Exactly, Jason Junior. There is nothing uncivil about pointing out facts. But there is something extremely uncivil and downright unseemly about attacking Sosin’s integrity. Maulucci’s lame-ass defense doesn’t change that.

Still to come: a spate of ass-covering by the cops, and correcting a very racist public monument.

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