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Weinberger attempts to break impasse with protesters

Published: Sep. 2, 2020 at 5:27 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 3, 2020 at 10:58 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - After nearly nine days of Burlington protests sparked by the Wisconsin shooting of Jacob Blake, the mayor and protesters calling for the firing of three Burlington officers, appear to be at an impasse.

Black Lives Matter protesters say they plan to release a statement Thursday in response to Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s announcement Tuesday that he’s not going to fire three police officers accused of excessive force.

Ofcs. Joseph Corrow, Jason Bellavance and Cory Campbell were investigated for use of force and cleared of criminal charges after incidents in 2018 and 2019.

One protester told WCAX News on Wednesday night that the group spent the day drafting up a statement that they plan to send to local media and city officials on Thursday. When WCAX asked the protester if the statement will include their next plan of action, he said “possibly.”

Protesters have stated that they’re not leaving Battery Park until their demands are met. They took their message down Main Street Wednesday night. They sat in the middle of the road on top of the Black Lives Matter mural.

During the march down Main Street, traffic backed up and we know at least one car forced its way through protesters. Protesters showed resistance as it drove through. Click the video below to see the interaction.

The group camped out again overnight and on Thursday are planning to join with UVM students and teachers to take part in a “die-in” protest at the University of Vermont at 4 p.m. at the Davis Center. The groups will be protesting UVM budget cuts and what demonstrators call the failure of the administration to listen to the safety concerns of students of color.

WEINBERGER SAYS FIRING OF OFFICERS NOT POSSIBLE

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger Wednesday said he’s open to working with protesters on police reforms but says their number one demand, the firing of three police officers, is a non-starter.

Every day for the last week, protesters have taken to the streets in Burlington. Tuesday night was the largest gathering yet, with hundreds marching down Church Street and surrounding City Hall.

“So far no, we haven’t had any problems with protesters or our guests,” said Amber Gorhan, the assistant general manager at Gaku Ramen.

As the rallies in front of her restaurant on Church Street have grown every day, she says they have mostly stayed peaceful and that she is not concerned for her business or customer safety.

“I think they are going to be peaceful,” she said. “We have a lot of youth running these protests.”

But Mayor Weinberger says what started as peaceful protests in some other cities across the country, has led to violence and looting.

“It’s hard not to look out across the rest of the country and not be concerned,” he said.

He agrees that the protests have been peaceful so far in Burlington and says he has met with the activists multiple times. He also says they are talking about finding common ground on police reforms, like the city’s system of accountability.

“I think it’s problematic, unique within our charter that only the police chief has only a formal role in the disciplining of officers,” Weinberger said.

But when it comes to the protesters’ demands that three current officers be fired, the mayor maintains that legally can’t happen.

“I have certainly shared with them, as we have in the past, the challenges with those demands,” he said.

Richard Cassidy is the lawyer who represents the police union. He says the allegations of excessive use of force have not only been reviewed internally, but have also been reviewed by the state’s attorney’s office, and in once case by the attorney general.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: Is there anything that can happen to work with them?

Richard Cassidy: As a legal matter, these cases are closed.

And because the officers have been cleared of wrongdoing, Cassidy says firing them would breach the union contact and could cost the city millions in court.

“If the demand that these officers were terminated were agreed to, that would not only damage the right of Burlington Police officers to rely upon the law, it would undermine everyone’s right to due process,” he said.

Back on Church Street, Gorhan says she appreciates that demonstrators are making their demands peacefully.

“The way they are moving now is just the right way to go,” she said.

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