Letter: Rooting out racism in justice system

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To the Editor:

According to a 2020 Washington Post Study, 1,038 people have been shot and killed by law enforcement in the past year. Black and Hispanic people are more than four times more likely to be shot and killed by law enforcement than white people. In Vermont, while blacks and Hispanics represent only 3 percent of the total state population, according to the last U.S. census they represent more than 14 percent of the Vermont prison population.

This year the nation added George Floyd to the long and growing list of people killed by law enforcement under circumstances that cause even the most hardened criminal justice professional to be repulsed and demand immediate action. While Vermont public defenders, together with criminal defense and civil rights attorneys and activists around the nation, continue to work every day to try to remedy the wrongs of a justice system replete with historic institutional racism, we are constantly mindful now more than ever that words and sentiment are not enough. The move to eradicate institutional racism in the criminal justice system starts with strong legislation to limit the use of deadly force by law enforcement; it includes reporting requirements so that trends toward racial profiling in stops, arrests, convictions, and sentences can be identified; it requires diversity education for those in the justice system to root out institutional racism and prevent it from taking hold in the first instance, and it requires accountability for those who would violate rights of people of color in the system.

The Office of the Defender General, Vermont public defenders, along with advocates and citizens across the State of Vermont, stand together with our brothers and sisters around the country and in solidarity unequivocally state that "Black Lives Matter." We will continue to stand and defend those who are aggrieved by systemic racism in the criminal justice system. We will continue to work to vindicate the rights of people of color, the indigent, and the accused because that is their right under our Constitution, and more importantly because that is our duty as human beings.

Matthew Valerio,

Montpelier

The writer is Vermont's defender general.

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