Letter to Burlington Mayor, City Council and Police Commission

Honorable Mayor Miro Weinberger, Burlington City Council and Burlington Police Commission

Re:  Systemic Racism; City Transformation

Jun 8, 2020

Mr. Mayor, et. al,

The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor are the latest in what we know to be centuries of political and economic oppression and exploitation of black people in this country.  This racial pandemic is pervasive across all structures of society and at its roots, it was created and is maintained for the purpose of ensuring the allocation of political and economic access across racial lines, to benefit white people.  It is who we are and always have been as a nation.  This is as true in Vermont as it is anywhere in the United States and we must do our part in dismantling this systemic racism.  It is for this reason that we call upon the Mayor and or the City Council to declare racism a citywide health crisis.  We further call upon the City Council to resolve that a “task force” be established to consider an apology and a proposal for reparations for the role that Burlington has played in Chattel Slavery.   We also call on Burlington to make a moral statement by prioritizing the  eradication of systemic racism in the creation of the budget.

It is time to change this shameful reality and move to a place beyond our aspirational constitutional rhetoric that Vermont has held to be true over the  past 243 years, that “all persons are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent, and unalienable rights, amongst which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety”.  We must be intentional about making a morally driven transformation in Burlington.  Our highest priority must be to right the wrongs that we have made. This will require a bold approach that will require us to transform systems, not just change processes. 

We urge you to fund the Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (REBI) function to enable full operational capacity.   The REIB Office must be expanded to include data and policy analysis and training and outreach coordination.

Funding must be made available for a full baseline equity assessment.  Full commitment must  be made to ensure the implementation of the backend infrastructure required to support the requisite data collection, aggregation and correlation that will be required to support the  data-driven outcomes of the Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Director. 

As we are committed to shifting our moral narrative to one that values the lives of all, we must ensure that everyone enjoys safety and protection under the law.  Our current system does not afford that.  It is for this reason that we call for an immediate restructuring of the entire public safety apparatus in the city of Burlington.  This should be rooted in an immediate and sustained re-focussing on who, what and where we police in our community.  Our civilian oversight of law enforcement must place a priority on the wellness of our peace officers.  An immediate 30 percent reduction in uniformed officers; community engagement; department assessment; and, analysis and realignment implementation should follow.  The City Council must grant the Police Commission the authority to oversee this transition.

Our values also inform us that everyone should be afforded an opportunity to prosper.  This is currently not the case.  The city should immediately establish an Office of Equal Opportunity (EO), staffed with an EO Officer with corresponding responsibilities for complaint management and the oversight of a newly formed Minority Owned Business City Procurement Program.  A newly formed and targeted Economic Empowerment Program should also be deployed which includes a Capital Access Program (grants and loans), a Business-to-Business Incentive Mentorship Program and a Technical Assistance Program for disempowered communities.

Our communities-of-color are at the core of our values because this is where we live and interact.  We call on the City to partner with people-of-color led business and community in the implementation of a Cultural Empowerment Community Collective.  Located central to those it serves, the CECC will serve as a bastion of hope, purpose and vision for the disempowered communities.  A Community Center, a Youth Activities Center, and Education and Training and Arts Centers of Excellence will anchor this facility.  The Economic Development Community Partnership will collectively fund programs for Adult Basic Education, Basic Computer Skills, People Development, STEM Development and Entrepreneurial Cultivation Programs. The CECC will administer a Technical Assistance Grant Fund.

In summary:

●      The problem is systemic racism and the solution is transformation; Burlington is not equipped to eradicate systemic racism; the city must equip. 

●      Safety and protection under the law and opportunity for everyone do not exist for everyone in our current structure; we must therefore re-structure.

●      Disempowered communities must be enabled to empower, sustain themselves and center on their own culture within their communities.

We are poised to make a transformation in the City of Burlington that will be the first of its kind.  We must lean into the transformation that we know is right for our community and this nation.   Though we stand at the intersection of two global pandemics, all is not lost if we have wisdom to see the opportunity that presents itself  in the midst; the courage to seize this moment; and, the commitment and integrity to see it through.  Now is the time for the City of Burlington to lead the nation in transformation to a place where for once all people are afforded equal protection and an opportunity to prosper.  We at the Racial Justice Alliance implore you to transform this city for us and our posterity.

Please acknowledge receipt of this letter and coordinate with us a time where we might begin an engagement process to work collaboratively towards transformation.  We stand at the ready to make Burlington a better place to live for all.

Respectfully,

Vermont Racial Justice Alliance
Steering Committee

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