Scott: Vt. State Police investigating bias incident

Published: May. 13, 2020 at 7:56 AM EDT
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Gov. Phil Scott opened Wednesday's media briefing with what he called a disturbing incident of Vermonters targeting people they think are out-of-staters.

Scott says he was alerted to an encounter that happened last Friday in Hartford. According to the Vermont State Police, a man driving a car with New York plates was going to his Hartford home when he was harassed in front of his 11-year-old son.

State police are looking into this as a possible racial bias case as the father is African American and the person accused of harassing him is white. The African American man was allegedly told by the suspect that the governor didn't want him here.

Governor Scott says that's not true and he warned Vermonters that this behavior will not be allowed. "I want to be very clear. I have no tolerance for this kind of thing. It's unacceptable. It does not represent my views or who I believe we are as a state. While we still have travel restrictions in place, I've been clear those who have homes or family here or who must travel are welcome," Scott said. He says he later called the family to apologize.

Vermont State Police Captain Gary Scott is director of fair and impartial policing and community affairs and has been in contact with the family since the incident last week. We asked him if a racial slur was used.

"He hasn't described a racial slur to me in this investigation at this time. But it was very clear to him that the way they were speaking that they meant racially -- him being a black male from New York City. They described him as being a drug dealer, so it felt very racial to him in the way it occurred," Capt. Scott said.

Many Hartford area residents we spoke with were shocked to hear about Friday's incident. Although people are feeling scared and worried about their safety right now, they say that does not excuse this kind of behavior.

"I think more than ever there's like a divide, right. So, now with the pandemic, people are just finding reasons to hate each other even more," said Nick Keating of Plainfield, New Hampshire.

"You don't know what somebody's situation is. Just because they have out-of-state plates, they could have lived in Vermont for the past five years and haven't changed their plates or whatever. You can think whatever you want but to go out and be vulgar like that and say something -- that's not ok," said Michelle Stroffolino of Quechee.

The people we spoke with say they aren't sure if this is a racist incident, or people taking the stay-at-home order too far, but either way, they agree it is not acceptable and definitely should not have happened in front of a child.

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