Social Inequity and Systemic Racism
Posted Fall 2020
I was pleased that the legislature passed S.219 (An act relating to addressing racial bias and excessive use of force by law enforcement). However, this single bill can never be a complete solution for the monolith that is systemic racism. It is only one of the many steps that must be taken.
Many Vermonters care deeply about justice and equality. The death of George Floyd has galvanized many Americans into action. I am hearing loudly and clearly from my constituents an outcry for racial justice.
From the beginnings of our history as a state, we recognized deep social injustices. We became the first state to abolish slavery. Unfortunately, woefully inadequate progress has followed. Americans are waking up to the fact that our country, our society, our laws, and our institutions are built on foundations that neither incorporate the interests of everyone nor protect the well-being of every citizen. Now is the time to address the institutional and systemic racism that harms and traumatizes many of our citizens.
We must work both individually to educate ourselves and collectively to transform institutions in order to dismantle systemic racism and centuries of oppression. Our laws and our lives need to be aligned for this work to be successful. Every Vermonter is impacted by systemic racism and everyone has an important role to play in addressing this important issue.
Law enforcement agencies in Vermont should use modern policing strategies that develop collaborative partnerships between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. There must be continuous effort to combat racial bias and to increase transparency and accountability in policing. Law enforcement officers must use de-escalation strategies first and foremost before using force in every community-police interaction.
A police officer is, by definition, in a position of power. Unfortunately, some individuals are drawn to this work because of the power it conveys. Police officers are public servants who should be continuously striving to protect everyone in the community. We need some mechanism to evaluate the suitability of individuals in law enforcement careers.
The legislature must continue to address issues of racial bias and disproportionate use of force by law enforcement. We must consider recommendations that come forward through a process of meaningful community engagement, particularly with impacted, marginalized, and vulnerable communities. We need to collect additional data from roadside stops by law enforcement officers, including data regarding use of force and the grounds for any search.
Criminal justice system reform:
As a society, we need to reevaluate the tools and methods we use to address criminal activity on an ongoing basis. The rate of incarceration in the United States is among the highest in the world. Perennial racial, economic, and geographic disparities are extremely troubling. Our current justice system is plagued by the unsustainable cost of incarceration. We need innovative and creative thinkers in our judiciary branch and correctional facilities. Our courts and judges should focus on public safety, community well-being, and justice. We should explore and expand alternatives to incarceration (e.g., restorative justice, diversion). We must constantly reassess how we address substance use disorders, mental illness, and poverty. Our criminal justice system must continue to focus efforts wherever possible on reducing recidivism, breaking the cycle of crime, and helping offenders rebuild their lives. The Judiciary Branch needs adequate funding so that all cases can be resolved in a timely manner.