Protesters leave Burlington park after monthlong occupation

Published: Sep. 30, 2020 at 6:42 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 1, 2020 at 7:18 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Racial justice protesters living in Burlington’s Battery Park since late August are moving out after five weeks of camping out in a show of resistance against Burlington police.

A group of protesters arrived Wednesday evening for a farewell party called “Thank you, Battery,” according to a message by the group The Black Perspective posted on Facebook.

“The folks at Battery have welcomed us into their home for 30+ days and we are beyond grateful. Come through and get hyped for what’s to come. This is only the beginning,” read the post.

Organizers say the group will continue protesting in the Queen City and demanding police accountability, but they will no longer be camping out overnight in the park.

Protesters have been camping out in the park since August 25, after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. They are demanding three Burlington Police officers be fired because of excessive force in separate incidents. While none of the officers were fired, Sgt. Jason Bellavance agreed to a buyout deal with the city and will be leaving the department by October 5.

The city has also implemented a few changes since the protest began last month. Just last week Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced he has created a new director of police transformation and has hired YMCA director Kyle Dodson to fill the position. The Burlington City Council also unanimously passed a resolution that asks the Charter Change Committee to look into revising the current city charter and giving a public body authority to fire police officers. The police commission is also reviewing its body camera release policy.

While protesters cleaned up the park and packed up their belongings on Wednesday night, WCAX News hit Church Street to find out how the community is reacting to the monthlong show of resistance.

“They’re here to make change and they have very fair demands and they’re out here every night dedicated to making change,” said Katie Roberts.

“I think if they’re coming back every day and doing their thing, I think that’s fine and that makes sense for them to continue doing it. It wouldn’t mind, personally, seeing it at all. I think it makes sense and it’s smart,” said Steven Bombard.

Some people in Burlington want city leaders to do more to address protesters' concerns about police reform and they’re encouraging protesters to keep up the momentum for as long as it takes.

“I think that they should rebuild the police force and have certain standards that the citizens talk about. I feel like it should be for the citizens versus being a police to misuse their power against citizens,” suggested Luise Rosenbaum. “People should continue with voicing for change because without people revolting against the system, nothing will change because people would rather stay silent than have something change.”

Protesters wouldn’t tell WCAX News their next plan of action but said they will release a statement within the next 24 to 48 hours.

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