As you anguish over recent events in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas, let me be blunt: The prospect of state-sponsored violence against black and brown people by law enforcement in Vermont looms ever present. Now is not the time to anguish, but to act!
The single most important constructive action to reduce this threat in Vermont is to ensure that every sworn law enforcement officer understands negative implicit racial bias — the attitudes and stereotypes that unconsciously affect our understanding, actions, and decisions — and how to avoid acting upon those biases.
This would best be accomplished through the adoption of recommendations from an independent commission formed to review the curriculum and instructional modalities of the Vermont Police Academy relative to The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing (www.cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/taskforce_finalreport.pdf). The task force recommends meaningful solutions to help law enforcement agencies and communities strengthen trust and collaboration through community-focused policing.
A state commission, whether created by executive order of the governor or by legislative mandate, must be comprised equally of law enforcement professionals and private citizens.
We need a transparent process whereby Vermonters — particularly those of us of color, members of mental health advocacy groups, and the LGBTQI community — can provide input on how the Vermont Police Academy, operated by the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council, (re)aligns its curriculum and training methods to meet the recommendations of President Obama's task force.
A thorough and systematic review by this joint commission would ultimately lead to a better set of law enforcement training actions. A review completed solely by law enforcement officials and presented to citizens as a fait accompli would be woefully insufficient. Action driven by the "law enforcement knows what's best for law enforcement" narrative would do little or nothing to strengthen community trust. Creating a joint commission and implementing its recommendations would constitute meaningful action.
Vermont State Police and the Department of Public Safety already have shown courageous leadership to address negative implicit bias, particularly racial bias. For the past decade, Vermont State Police have been working with conscious intention on these issues. Capt. Ingrid Jonas was appointed the first director of Fair and Impartial Policing and Community Affairs, and VSP recently released five years of data on motor vehicle stops. But much more remains to be done.
We should not expect the state police to do the work alone. Sheriff and local police departments must also work to make sure that no one in their ranks is prone to act on negative implicit biases. Starting with the Vermont Police Academy, all Vermont law enforcement agencies must actively train and provide ongoing professional development for every officer on how to avoid negative implicit bias.
The threat to Vermonters of color is real, so all of us — law enforcement and the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve — must get real and act meaningfully together. Vermont has led the nation many times on many difficult issues. We could do so again by reducing or eliminating the risk of state-sponsored violence against people of color, including residents and visitors, through constructive, meaningful action.
Curtiss Reed, Jr., is the executive director Vermont Partnership for Fairness & Diversity. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Vermont Partnership, visit http://www.vermontpartnership.org. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.