By Gov. Phil Scott
Editor’s note: What follows is a transcript of Gov. Phil Scott remarks on racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death by police last Monday and subsequent protests over the weekend in Vermont and nationwide. These remarks opened the regular, three-times-per week press conference usually dedicated to the state’s Covid-19 response on Monday, June 1.
I want to start by addressing the tragic death of George Floyd in Minnesota. And the reactions, justifiable outrage, that it sparked across the nation. I also want to remind everyone of the role each of us has to play in making our nation better and truly equitable for every American regardless of their skin color, religion, sexuality, job, where they were born, or their political views. Mr. Floyd’s death is a heartbreaking tragedy and a painful reminder that if you believe, as do I, that everyone is created equal in the eyes of God and according to the founding principles of our nation, we have much more work to do to be a better country, and better people.
My heart goes out to his family and the Minneapolis community, which is suffering deeply right now. And further, my heart goes out to all people of color across the nation, who even though they live in different communities, carry this trauma every time something like this happens.
As you know last week I joined the Vermont State Police to condemn the actions of the officers involved.
Mr. Floyd’s death, under their watch —under an officer’s knee — is barbaric, and totally inexcusable. It’s my belief that they should all be charged and tried for murder and held fully accountable — both the three officers who used force and the officers that stood by and allowed it to occur. In the greatest country in the world, no one should stand for this. No one should make excuses for this. And no one should ignore this. We must all make clear: Enough is enough.
And while we’re watching this unfold across the country it’s important to reflect upon a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King who said: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
They simply don’t know what else to do. And for those that see national protest and feel disdain: in stead of sympathy just know, the reactions that we are seeing in cities around the country are the result of decades, actually centuries, of calls for help that went unheard.
For many people today, every time something like this happens, it’s another reminder of how long communities of color have been waiting for equity. And how little things have changed. It’s clear that fear, sadness, helplessness, frustration have reached a boiling point as the African American community has seen far too much of this. And many Americans are standing with them as we should because again, enough is enough.
I know many Vermonters are seeking to have their voices heard as well and I respect those who are doing so. I only ask that you do so peacefully and safely, especially considering the public health crisis we’re facing. But I assure you, we’re listening. I hear what you have to say. And I know, we not only need to continue to hear it, we also need to act.
The fact is, hate, ignorance, and the inequality we’ve seen is a far greater risk to the long-term health of our nation than even Covid-19.
That’s why we cannot continue to treat racism and examples like the one in Minneapolis, like an uncomfortable and rare event, because it’s NOT an isolated incident and we need to acknowledge that it’s systemic; that it’s build upon and into our social systems, our economic systems and everything in between.
We must also remember that we’re not immune to this in Vermont, which is why we’ve been working on a racial equity task force in recent months and it will be launched today. This task force will be charged with looking at the disparities of Covid-19 infection and death rates so we can figure out how to close that gap. It will also evaluate what supports we have for racially diverse populations and whether its enough. It will review current state and federal laws around hate speech and contemplate ways to encourage Vermonters from a range of racial and ethnic groups to run and serve in public office at all levels. We will have updates next week when appointments are made and as this work gets moving.
But let’s be honest, a task force is not the cure-all for what ails us. It’s going to take some soul-searching, and real change individually to make a difference. We should take this time to reflect on what role each of us can play to end hate, racism and bigotry. And for those of us who are white, who aren’t typically the victim of it, we need to take a very close look, because the reality is, it’s everywhere, even here.
The good news is, we can fix this without waiting for a vaccine or other solutions out of our control. It just takes us —uniting— to make this a better country for everyone.