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City officials say Battery Park encampment led to key reforms

Published: Oct. 1, 2020 at 5:53 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The five-week occupation of Battery Park in Burlington park is over. Protesters who’ve been demanding police reforms began packing up Wednesday night and city officials on Thursday said the group had pushed forward some positive reform efforts.

At its peak, around 50 tents were set up in Battery Park. On Thursday morning, protesters were taking down the remaining dozen or so tents remaining.

“I was protesting and the camping came as an added benefit,” said Henry Trehub, who says he was one of the many people who camped out and marched with the daily protests to city hall. He says the community that was built was peaceful and something he won’t forget. “People were fed at any time of the day and it made me have a little more faith in humanity.”

“From my perspective, I welcome that they have chosen to do this,” said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. He says he is happy the occupation of Battery Park ended without violence toward the protesters or police -- a key reason why he did not fine the protesters for illegally camping. “It’s always been my goal from the start to avoid violence, avoid destruction, avoid the kind of problematic interactions between the police and protesters that we have seen around the county.”

City Councilor Jack Hanson, P-East District, says the protests had an impact on the community. “As a result of the encampment and the protest we were able to do a lot more then we would have otherwise,” he said.

Protesters have been camping out in the park since August 25, after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. They demanded 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.

And Hanson says the protesters' efforts prompted other needed reforms, including a new director of police transformation hired by the city. The Burlington City Council approved 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. “Although the encampment has ended, I’m sure the push will continue,” Hanson said.

The protesters say even though they are moving out, they are not done. And Mayor Weinberger says he hopes to focus more on a new consensus around policing. “I hope, I expect the people involved in the protest will continue to be a part of that conversation. I welcome that,” he said.

The Burlington Police did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

As for the remaining tents and debris in the park, the mayor believes that the protest group will continue to be respectful and clean up. The mayor says that the city plans to continue to work with the homeless population in the park that joined the encampment.

After attempting to speak with protest leaders for weeks, Zanevia Wilcox on Wednesday night spoke with us on behalf of the group. She criticized the media -- including WCAX -- for their portrayal of the group.

“I’m just super overwhelmed with emotions during this entire movement right now. And I think what’s been crossing my head, especially, is just how powerful it’s been to be part of the space, but how uplifting and how motivational and revolutionary these actions have been every day and just the encampment itself. But I think one thing we’re definitely leaving with and taking with us, is a collective understanding that media has continuously not told the story the correct way and has lost the trust of the BIPOC community in Burlington,” Wilcox said. She added that when talking about an oppressed group, members of that group need to be in the room.

Related:

Protesters leave Burlington park after monthlong occupation

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