Bennington town officials face new allegations of systemic racism

Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 5:46 PM EDT
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BENNINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The American Civil Liberties Union is demanding a human rights investigation of the Bennington Select Board after a local couple says they were forced to flee the town in fear of their safety.

“Vermont does not have a problem with recruiting brown and Black people to come to this state. We have a problem with the way they are treated when they come,” said Tabitha Moore, the former president of the Rutland Area NAACP who helped file the complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission. It says Cassandra Keating and Joel Fowler were racially targeted by the police, ultimately forcing them to leave the state out of fear.

The NAACP says Fowler was ticketed 12 times in 22 days for minor violations. When the couple filed verbal and written complaints about their treatment, they say the Bennington Select Board retaliated against them by illegally disclosing their identities and personal information publicly at a meeting. “The Select Board’s actions seemingly intended to discourage other people from reporting discrimination, police misconduct by the Bennington Police Department,” said the ACLU’s Jay Diaz.

He says he hopes the complaint will lead to changes in how the board handles complaints about police, including the creation of a citizen review board.

Cassandra Keating and Joel Fowler
Cassandra Keating and Joel Fowler(Photo provided)

Police officials, Benington Select Board leadership, and the town manager all declined to comment on the complaint Wednesday. People we spoke with around town said systemic racism is real in Bennington but many are afraid it will put a target on their back if they speak out.

“I have seen police pull over African American people, people of color, Indigenous people, and they shove it under the mat a lot of times -- the police department,” said Nancy Sanford of Bennington

Alfred Hampton has lived in Bennington since 1997 and says some people don’t realize their actions are racist, but others are very aware. “At the end of the day, I can’t walk around scared, especially with everything... I have got children. You can’t teach them to bow down to these people,” he said

Bennington’s Select Board has scheduled a meeting for May 4th to review recommendations made by the International Association of Chiefs of Police for oversight of the police department.

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