Black Lives Matter:
We are living in a broken system designed to oppress people based on culture and color of skin. Over the past few months, it has been both eye-opening and inspiring to see so many people coming together to stand up against systemic racism and police brutality. Silence is not an option.
It is difficult not to get lost in the enormity of these issues. By focusing within our own spheres of influence we can each cast our own stones to create a ripple effect of changeー the more rocks we drop the harder the ripples are to ignore.
As a company we believe that a fierce willingness to learn and a dedication to perpetual action are sustainable ways to dismantle the racist systems that oppress growth in marginalized communities and society as a whole. As a media and marketing company we have the ability and privilege of uplifting different voices and stories through our medium. We will be reaching out to Vermont business owners who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color (BIPOC) and offering our services pro bono to help share their stories and promote their businesses.
We have grown up and currently reside in Vermont, one of the whitest states in the country. We recognize that our overwhelmingly white communities have shrouded BIPOC voices and experiences of oppression and continue to do so. One way we have recently seen this manifest in our local community of Vergennes, is with a number of signs that say “we support our local police”. We acknowledge that there is a role for law enforcement in communities, but these signs discredit marginalized voices by pulling attention away from systemic racism and serious issues with policing across the country. The message behind the signs fails to recognize the injustices embedded in policies and institutions (mass incarceration for example) that disproportionately affect BIPOC people on a local and national scale.
Reflecting on our own local community, a 2017 study mandated by Vermont legislature on traffic stop data (mostly from September 2014 – January 2016) from all Vermont Police Agencies, found racial disparities in stop rates. According to the study: “At the extreme is Vergennes, where Black drivers are stopped at a rate that is almost 3 times their estimated share of the county population…” (Seguino & Brooks, p. 4). This is the highest rate in the state of Vermont, and illustrates a real injustice that might be hard to understand when it is not so clearly quantified in this way or experienced firsthand.
In 2019 the Vergennes Police Department’s total actual budget expenditure percentage of the city’s general fund was 36.5%. We researched other surrounding communities’ general funds to gather some perspective into how the money was being distributed differently among neighboring towns. In Middlebury, 14.5% of the total actual general fund expenditure was spent by the Police Department, and in Bristol it was even lower, at 13.5%.
This brings forth two questionsー Why are we allocating/spending so much of our City’s general fund to/on the Vergennes Police Department? Are there other resources that could combat racial injustices and increase the overall well-being of our Vergennes community?
Our research has led us to support divesting from our local police department. We recognize that law enforcement is necessary, however, Vergennes spends an unnecessary amount of their city budget on policing when it could be better spent elsewhere. Allocating significant portions of their funding to non-police community resources, non-profits, and social workers as first responders in every community are initiatives we fully support. Chief Merkel clearly states in the Vergennes 2019 Annual Police Department Report, “We often serve as a resource for those seeking help with addiction or mentoring through life’s crisis.” Social workers go through years of education and training to learn how to respond to and provide resources for mental health incidents; whereas, police have very minimal training. There is room for both social workers and law enforcement to respond in conjunction. This is just one small example of how we can begin to evaluate how funds are allocated within our own towns, and to ask ourselves if we feel that our money is truly being used in the most productive way for everyone.
We would like to thank Police Chief Merkel and City Manager, Daniel Hofman for holding the first Vergennes Police Forum to start the conversations on how we can make Vergennes a better community for all. Our goal with this statement is to continue a constructive dialogue, and to encourage others to join in. We ask people and companies to look within themselves and their communities in order to help dismantle systemic racism. Tiptoeing around racial issues with vague stances can no longer be the norm on both personal and professional levels if we are going to achieve real equality.
“Racism is not the shark, it is the water.”
Unknown (Based on Drego Little’s Shark Theory of Racism)
Jake Dombek & Dana Ambrose