Gov. Scott: Why we're launching a racial equity task force

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Editor's note: The governor released this statement after his thrice-weekly press conference to update Vermonters on the state's response to the coronavirus.

I wanted to start my briefing today by addressing the tragic death of George Floyd in Minnesota, the reactions, and justifiable outrage it's sparked across the nation.

I also want to remind everyone of the role each of us has to play in making our nation better, and truly equitable, for every American, regardless of their skin color, religion, sexuality, job, where they were born, or their political views.

Mr. Floyd's death is a heartbreaking tragedy and a painful reminder that if you believe, as do I, that everyone is created equal in the eyes of God and according to the founding principles of our nation, we have much more work to do, to be a better country and better people.

My heart goes out to his family and the Minneapolis community, which is suffering deeply right now. Further, my heart goes out to all people of color across the nation, who, even if they live in different cities, carry this trauma every time something like this happens.

As you know, last week I joined the Vermont State Police to condemn the actions of the officers involved. Mr. Floyd's death, under their watch, under an officer's knee, is barbaric and totally inexcusable.

It's my belief they should all be charged and tried for murder, and held fully accountable, both the three officers who used force, and the officer who stood by and allowed it to occur.

In the greatest country in the world, no one should stand for this, no one should make excuses for this, and no one should ignore this. We must ALL make clear: enough is enough.

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And while we're watching the response across the country, it's important to reflect on a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, who said, "A riot is the language of the unheard." They simply don't know what else to do.

For those who see the national protests and feel disdain, instead of sympathy, just know, the reactions we're seeing in cities around the country are the result of decades — actually centuries — of calls for help that went unheard.

For many people today, every time something like this happens, it's another reminder of how long communities of color have been waiting for equity, and how little things have changed.

It's clear the fear, sadness, helplessness and frustration has reached a boiling point, as the African American community has seen FAR too much of this and many Americans are standing with them, as we should, because again, enough is enough.

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I know many Vermonters are seeking to have their voices heard as well and I respect those who are doing so. My only ask is you do so peacefully and safely, especially considering the public health crisis we're facing. But I assure you, we're listening.

I hear what you have to say and I know we not only need to continue to hear it, but also act. The fact is, hate, ignorance and the inequality we see is a far greater risk to the long term health of our nation than even COVID-19.

That's why we cannot continue to treat racism, and examples like the one in Minneapolis, like an uncomfortable and rare event. Because it's not an isolated incident and we need to acknowledge it's systemic — it's built into our social systems, our economic systems and everything in between.

We must also remember we're not immune to this in Vermont, which is why we've been working on a Racial Equity Task Force in recent months, and it will be launched today.

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This task force will be charged with looking at the disparities in COVID-19 infection and death rates, so we can figure out how to close that gap. They'll also evaluate what supports we have for racially diverse populations and whether it's enough.

It will review current state and federal law on hate speech and contemplate ways to encourage Vermonters from a range of racial and ethnic groups to run and serve in public office, at all levels.

And we'll have updates next week when the appointments are made and as this work gets moving.

But let's be honest, a taskforce is not the cure all for what ails us. It's going to take some soul searching, and real change, individually, to make a difference.

We should take this time to reflect on what role each of us can play to end hate, racism and bigotry.

And for those of us who are white, who aren't typically the victim of it, we need to take a very close look because the reality is, it's everywhere, even here.

The good news is, we can fix this without waiting for a vaccine, or other solutions out of our control, it just takes us uniting, to make this a better country for everyone, because like the coronavirus, this is literally in our hands.

Phil Scott, a Republican, is governor of Vermont.


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