Where do Vt. police reform efforts stand on anniversary of George Floyd murder?

Tuesday marks one year since the world watched in horror as a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, killing him.
Published: May. 24, 2021 at 6:29 PM EDT|Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 6:11 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Tuesday marks one year since the world watched in horror as a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, killing him in broad daylight. Floyd’s murder sparked protests and riots across the world, as millions demanded an end to police brutality and real criminal justice reform. So what progress has-- and hasn’t-- been made in terms of police reform in our region?

It was a year of protests and reckoning. After a Minneapolis police officer killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck, protesters around the country fed up with police brutality against people of color demanded systemic change in police departments across the U.S.

In Vermont’s biggest city, the Burlington City Council voted in June 2020 to cut the police force by 30%.

Protesters spent the summer demanding three officers be fired after they say body camera footage showed officers using force on citizens. But nobody was let go. One officer was even given a $300,000 retirement incentive.

The Burlington Police Commission worked for weeks to revamp the department’s use-of-force policy. Burlington Police Acting Chief Jon Murad believes it’s “the single best use of force policy in the state.”

“It talks about de-escalation about 18 times, I think, compared to the previous policy which mentioned it once. It is clear that it wants deceleration -- that’s slowing things down. It wants de-escalation -- that’s about finding other kinds of ways to avoid conflict,” Murad said.

But Steffen Gillom, the president of the NAACP of Windham County, says the calls they’re still getting from citizens around the state are worrisome.

“People feel like they’re being discriminated against and targeted by the police still. People still feel like the police aren’t responding accurately to their calls, especially in places like Rutland and Bennington,” Gillom said.

He says the one thing people still think is missing from police reform in Vermont is accountability. He wants to see officers punished if they abuse their power and the people they’re sworn to protect.

“We want to see an end to qualified immunity and we haven’t seen that, right? So when we look at things like that and when we see the things that we know are going to make a real difference, it’s hard to appreciate conversation so much. It’s hard to appreciate trainings,” Gillom said.

I asked the police chiefs what their departments are doing to continue this work.

Murad says the Burlington Police is undergoing an assessment with an external company into how to best manage their resources and internal operations.

There will be a moment of silence held at Burlington’s City Hall Park at noon Tuesday in honor of George Floyd.

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