Burlington's city council sat down to a long to-do list Monday night as it met for the first time in nearly a month. However an issue not on the agenda - a skirmish between police and protesters last month - dominated much of the evening's discussion.
The council last met in its entirety nearly two weeks before the incident. Monday, protester after protester addressed the city council. They called law enforcement response to the protest 'heinous' and demanded an independent investigation into the Burlington Police Department's policies and actions.
In late-July, hundreds of protesters demonstrated in front of Burlington's Hilton Hotel as it hosted a conference of New England governors and Canadian premieres. After most had gone home, a few moved to block a bus carrying wealthy dinner guests headed for Shelburne Farms.
The incident ended with police firing less-than-lethal weapons at protesters who refused to exit the bus' path. Police say the protesters became violent and had come prepared for a fight. Protesters contend they never did anything to threaten police and said law enforcement would not have had to resort to force in order to arrest them.
Burlington Police have not arrested anyone in connection with the incident though they say a criminal investigation is on-going.
"The attack on protesters in Burlington was not just an attack on individuals but on the rights of all people to challenge injustice," said Burlington resident Thomas Grace.
Genese Grill, a Burlington resident and former teacher of one of the protesters hit by crowd control fire, told the council that protesters deserve high-marks and police a failing grade. "The police force we are employing to protect free speech are intent on treacherously stifling our students' voices," she said.
After protesters wrapped up more than an hour of public forum, Mayor Weinberger read a statement of his own in response. He said police officials will draft a report to be inspected by the police commission - which is comprised of council appointees. He pledged that a preliminary copy of the report will be made available online when it's due in two weeks.
"As does the police force, I remain committed as mayor, to do all that I can to ensure that Burlington remains a place that respects, encourages, and celebrates freedom of speech and freedom of assembly," he closed.
Protesters said they liked what they heard but won't judge his response until the report comes out in a couple of weeks. Earlier in the evening many protesters had harsh words for the mayor.
Councilors scheduled discussion of Moran Plant development and bike path funding for the September 10th meeting.
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