On March 16, 2022

Students and lawmakers discuss criminal justice reform

Youth, advocates, legislators, and activists met March 10 to discuss their criminal justice legislative priorities during crossover week in Montpelier.

Speakers included Addie Lentzner of the Vermont Student Anti-Racism Network, Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky, Sen. Dick Sears, Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, DeRay McKesson and Cassie Ippaso of Campaign Zero, Mia Schultz of NAACP-Rutland, and Falko Schilling of Vermont ACLU.

“Our disparities are some of the most striking in the nation,” Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale said to begin the press conference on Zoom. “We are on par, if not worse, than the Deep South.”

Hinsdale, a candidate for Vermont’s only congressional seat, said that young Black men make up 2.5% of youth in Chittenden County but comprise 25% of arrests as youthful offenders, and there are multiple cases throughout Vermont where there has been misconduct and racism in the criminal justice system. Several bills address these disparities, including H.546, which relates to racial justice statistics.

Rep. Vyhovsky of Essex said that statistics are vital because they “prove that these are issues in Vermont” even though many Vermonters deny they exist. In Vermont, children of color are three times more likely to be arrested at school than white children. Also, a person of color is 14 times more likely to be stopped by the police in Vermont. Rep. Vyhovsky said that in the face of these statistics “we have a lot of work to do” and this kind of work includes hearing from the communities that are directly impacted.

“The law in Vermont allows the police to be in plainclothes when they execute a search warrant” and this is a huge problem, said DeRay Mckesson, founder of Campaign Zero. He advocates passing S.228, which bans no-knock warrants in Vermont.

Other legislation that VSARN wants to see passed into law is S.254, Ending Qualified Immunity, and H.635, banning certain traffic stops.

Mia Schultz of Bennington, president of the Rutland chapter of the Vermont NAACP, said that “if Black Lives really Matter you will pass meaningful legislation.”

Speakers sent a clear message today: Let’s move forward and get this done, passing bills before the end of the 2022 legislative session because it will save lives.

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