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February is a month intentionally set aside to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of Black people throughout American history. History in relation to Black people in America also requires us to examine and reckon with the past, and relate it to our current reality.

The laws and policies that have contributed to the current condition of police and Black people in the United States must be examined to better understand this history. From the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, to the Jim Crow Laws of the late 1800s, to the War on Drugs of the 1980s, there has been institutional racism and unequal treatment of Black people in policing. A violent culture permeates it, and when combined with historical and present-day prejudice and anti-Blackness, Black people’s lives are taken without consideration for their humanity.

Last month, a widely publicized video of police brutality that led to the death of Tyre Nichols was released. Tyre Nichols’ murder has been amplified by mainstream media, and shook the nation to address the violence in police culture, specifically toward Black people. But the death of Black people at the hands of the police is not a one-off. Oftentimes, the only way to garner attention is with a graphic video as proof of violence. Even when there is video, the public at large often has to hear the screams of Black people calling for their mothers as they are taking their last breaths for others to experience their humanity. However, Black people have known this violence for centuries without the evidence of video.

Law enforcement has disproportionately targeted Black people since the founding of the institution of policing. History has proven that there is a perception that Black people are a threat to white people, and the discriminatory policing practices include unjustified search and seizures, disproportionate criminal charges, and harsher sentences. Many fatal police contacts, such as those involving Tyre Nichols, start with minor traffic stops.

One might incorrectly assume that the overpolicing of Black people happens only in major metropolitan cities. Vermont is not exempt from this culture. The volume of traffic stops and incarceration rates demonstrate a culture wrapped in violent undertones of authority. Black adults enter Vermont correctional facilities at more than seven times the rate of white adults. Compared to white drivers, Black and Latinx drivers are four times more likely to be pulled over, and nearly three times more likely to be searched. By contrast, they are half as likely to be found with contraband, which means the over-stopping and over-searching is simply because of their skin color.

The NAACP aims to achieve equity, political rights, and social inclusion by advancing policies and practices that expand human and civil rights. In that spirit, it is important to me, and to my colleague, Steffen Gillom, at the Windham NAACP Branch, to amplify the voices of the victims of this violence and structural racism within the institution of policing.

On Feb. 9, 2023, both Vermont branches of the NAACP, along with the ACLU Vermont, will host a panel in Montpelier in the Pavilion Auditorium entitled “Voices from the Front: Structural Racism & Policing. The panel will feature family members whose loved ones were lost to police violence. This discussion is critical for working together to create a more equitable, just society by examining how we criminalize people and the root causes of this inequality. To face the present, we must acknowledge history, elevate the value of Black lives and humanity, and demand that our legislators change the future.

For more information on the panel, visit: acluvt.org/en/voices-front-structural-racism-policing.

Mia Schultz is the President of the Rutland Area National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a leader in the fight for racial justice and civil rights. The NAACP is the oldest and strongest civil rights organization in the United States. Mia’s work is to build bridges between communities of color and create a unified movement for social change. She is also tasked with promoting civil rights legislation, public policy initiatives, and community programs that support Black and other people of color. In this capacity, Mia is committed to using her platform to speak out for civil rights, with the mission to create a more equitable society for all.


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