FILE - Ken Westphal, center, an officer with the Lacey Police Dept. and an instructor at the Washington state Criminal Justice Training Commission, works with cadets LeAnne Cone, of the Vancouver Police Dept., and Kevin Burton-Crow, right, of the Thurston Co. Sheriff's Dept., during a training exercise Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Burien, Wash. Democratic lawmakers in California, Maryland and Washington passed far-reaching policing reforms this year in response to the 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

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We are Bennington youth who have come together to address racial and social justice in our town. We are writing to our community in the hopes that we can work together across generations to promote equality and a better world. After reading through our editorial, we hope you will join us in coalition to make Bennington a more fair, just place.

All of us in this community — regardless of race, class, gender, or any other factor — deserves to feel safe and respected. We deserve to live our identity to the fullest without fear. Whether you are Black or white, Asian or Latino, newcomer or native, rich or poor, young or old, we all desire a feeling of comfort and dignity in our home-town.

Yet amidst our common humanity, we are being divided, sometimes without us even knowing. Inequality and injustice in society are dividing us day by day, and we have to fight back.

Black Vermonters are 14 times more likely to be arrested on a drug charge than white Vermonters, 3.5 times more likely to be stopped by the police, and 6 times more likely to be imprisoned, according to a recent report by the Council of State Governments. These disparities are despicable, and must be eradicated.

It’s easy to brush aside statistics that do not affect you, but the reality is, they do affect all of us, and we all have an obligation to make change. As Lilla Watson says, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.” Our liberation, justice, and joy are all tied up together, and when some of us suffer all of us suffer. These statistics should not make individual white people get all defensive, nor should it make anyone feel especially blamed.

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On the contrary, this information should bring us together. These statistics show how systems are the culprit of divisions in our society, not necessarily individual racist people. The system that trains police officers in dozens of hours of firearms training but not any hours of anti-bias or ethnic studies training is at fault. The system that hires majority white male police officers is at fault. The system that, for too many years, has gone unchecked of these unjust biases is at fault. Changing a system by joining together as community members is a lot easier than shaming and blaming each other. We have to come together despite divisions to conquer it. It is time for us to come together to solve the problems facing our community.

Our town of Bennington is the perfect model town to show how white and Black, Hispanic and Asian, poor and rich, can all work together to end racial injustice, along with economic, disability, gender, and other injustices. It takes all of us, and every voice matters. Once you begin standing up and being a part of a community of change-makers, you will never want to turn back.

Youth from around the county have already stepped up to the challenge. This op-ed is entirely written by youth who are worried about the state of our town and eager to shake up the status quo. As exceptional as that might seem, youth shouldn’t be taking on this burden alone. Far too often young people give up their childhood to fight for social justice that older generations have chosen not to address. We need you — adult allies — to help in this fight. Working together, youth and adults of all backgrounds and situations are the only force that can make systemic change. Will you join us?

Please fill out this form to be involved in community efforts for partnership, peace, reconciliation, and justice:

Addie Lentzner of Bennington submitted on behalf of Bennington youth.


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