We are stronger together.
On Aug. 5, the Select Board and Town and Police leadership listened in person and remotely as the members of our community worked with Curtiss Reed Jr. of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity to review and help fashion the Town's Vision and Police Department's Mission statements. Both revised statements are now posted to the Town's website and Facebook page. Work continues as we move through the process. On Aug. 17, Curtiss will post the work of the two community research teams, the first focused on community policing and the second on community review boards. Following this, Curtiss will facilitate community discussions on these two topics. At the recent Select Board meeting, he noted that there is a state-wide effort through the Legislature or the Governor's Office to potentially create and define the roles of community advisory/review committees, and therefore Bennington should not rush to create its own committee at this time.
In this vein, the Select Board approved the painting of a street mural representing Black Lives Matter (BLM). It has upset many members of our community even though similar efforts have been approved in communities nation-wide. This approval recognizes that people of color have struggled for 400 years to find a place of true equality in American society. The BLM movement seeks to bring this desire to fruition. The mission of the organization states that BLM is "committed to struggling together to imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive." There is no mention of anti-police sentiments in this statement. There is no mention of violence against society. In my opinion, some people have committed acts of violence and destruction co-opting this movement for their own purposes creating anger and fear in much of society. We must admit to and recognize the systemic bias that our societal systems have embedded in them. Only then can we change them.
So how does this affect the members of the Bennington Police Department? We have an excellent department; our employees are well-trained, community-minded and respectful to all. Look at the many volunteer efforts our employees take part in that serve the community: New Experiences Camp, the Copsicle Program, bicycle safety programs and helmet give a ways, stuff a cruiser at the holidays to provide gifts to those less fortunate, the Torch Run to support Special Olympics are just a few. They are there for us when we need them. They have embraced the effort to review and improve department policies and procedures. But they suffer under the current atmosphere of anger and mistrust created by the George Floyd murder in Minnesota and two relatively recent Vermont Supreme Court decisions overturning drug trafficking convictions for arrests made in 2013 and 2016.
If we are to move forward together as a community, we must understand that one can support the Bennington Police Department and the Black Lives Matter movement at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive.
The governor has continued the COVID emergency to Aug. 15, 2020. He has now allowed for schools to reopen. He has now mandated masks or face coverings to further mitigate the chance for transmission of the virus. We are encouraged to wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart whenever possible, and wash our hands regularly. We, in Vermont, have done a pretty good job keeping the virus somewhat at bay. Unfortunately, it's not over so be careful; stay safe; stay healthy.
Remember, if anyone has any questions or suggestions arising from this column or on any town matters, please contact me at 442-1037 or stop in at the Town Offices on South Street.
Stuart Hurd is Bennington's town manager. He writes a monthly column on town issues.