May of 2020 saw an uproar of protests following the murder of George Floyd, a black man at the hands of a white police officer, a trend America has seen for far too long.
By June of 2020, the nation was reintroduced to the protesting of injustices, but at a maximum level.
Since the murder of George Floyd, there have been protests every day in the United States.
Vermont is no exception.
June 6, 2020, my closest friends and I organized the protest on Main Street Park in Rutland, Vermont. Six-hundred people attended to gather in solidarity with BIPOC in our community and called to action the racial discrimination in our country and own city.
It was the most exhausted and proud I’ve ever been in my life, of course with the added bonus of planning a gathering during Covid-19, but also the stress of making sure this protest was as safe as possible.
The last thing I wanted was for the protest to get violent, but more importantly, that no anti-protesters came and threatened – or hurt – anyone.
Yes, we got a few threats and naysayers, but as I looked out into the crowd of friends and strangers, masked up and signs in hand, I had never felt prouder of my community. I thought, maybe, this could really do something.
Maddy Thorner, who helped organize the protest in Rutland, was asked why it was important for white people to recognize their privilege and march alongside people of color.
“It’s impossible for us as white people to understand the BIPOC experience, so it felt a little funny in the Rutland protest that three white girls were organizing it,” Thorner said. “But in my eyes, we were able to use our privilege to give a stage to voices who are underrepresented in our town.”
Since the protest, there have been constant disputes over the Black Lives Matter movement and the all lives matter believers, and of course many conversations about how to be anti-racist and leave behind implicit bias in our community, but there hasn’t been another protest.
But Burlington, Vermont, is different.
For the past month, protests and marches have been occurring every day in the city. People are set up around the clock at Battery Street Park, along with a march at 6:30 p.m. from the park, to Church Street, and to the Burlington Police Department, and protestors say they will continue to be held until the three police officers they’re protesting are fired.
The three officers in question, Jason Bellavance, Cory Campbell and Joseph Corrow, were seen on body camera video using force on people, which led to two excessive force lawsuits.
“The whole way, we chant and try to make our presence impossible to ignore,” said Thorner, who has been to three of the protests and marches so far. “Some people yell at us but we’re instructed not to engage with outside people. If they want to join in, they can.”
Thorner said that what is special about the Burlington protests is they are led by BIPOC youth.
“They do an excellent job making it very clear what our role is at the march, and that it is up to us to lift the speakers and stand in solidarity with BIPOC in our community,” she said.
The youth group is called The Black Perspective, and despite efforts to reach members, at the time of writing this article they have not responded.
But they’re active.
They post on their social media every day, with resources, statistics, and information on the marches and protests in Burlington, and the Black Lives Matter movement happening in the world currently.
They also organize speakers and other events at the protest, including slam poetry, movie nights and talent shows.
Rutland native Em Gonzales goes to UVM and has attended some of the protests.
As a person of color, Gonzales had the opportunity to stand on the steps of City Hall and right in front of the Burlington Police Department with other BIPOC.
“It felt extremely empowering to have the ability to be proud of my heritage for once,” Gonzales said.
“The entire experience has been super eye-opening and educating,” Gonzales said. “I’ve spoken to a few of the speakers and they’re all such wonderful and charismatic people.”
Asked about the differences between the Rutland and Burlington marches, Gonzales said the Rutland protest was more about honoring the victims of police brutality and standing together with BIPOC in our community, whereas the Burlington protests are more of an immediate call to action.
“We can honor the victims as much as we want, it’s extremely important to remember them and their lives, and to recognize that they are so much more than names,” they said. “But if there is no change, then there’s nothing stopping the police from killing and harming BIPOC.
“More and more names will be added to the list and at that point it’s nonsensical to honor the victims if nothing is done to stop more victims from being created.”
Gonzales said that arresting those three officers is just the first step in creating a city that’s safer for BIPOC to live in so we don’t have to see another name be added to a list that’s centuries old.