Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Color influences police response

We have written previously about the racist history of policing in our country and how police are doing exactly what they were created to do: protecting property over human lives. It might feel good to tell ourselves that Middlebury is different, but the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance’s database of traffic stops by race in Vermont has clear data showing otherwise. From this data set, covering years 2014-2018, we can see that the Middlebury Police Department (MPD) stopped Black drivers at a rate higher than expected, given the number of Black drivers, for four out of the five years. These data mirror national statistics on the racial profiling of Black drivers, and the policing of Black drivers has been documented in countless instances, described as the phenomenon “Driving While Black.” MPD is not different and must be held accountable for this disparity. 
Beyond this quantitative data, we have the experiences of Black members of our community shared in the Addison Independent. Bashiru Abdulaziz was recently stopped by police after a false report about his behavior. He described how neither the witnesses nor the officers responding gave him the benefit of the doubt because of the color of his skin (“Abdulaziz offers his view on police response” – 7/2/20). The MPD also brought a dog to the scene, which, as mentioned in our previous article, often has the intention and impact of eliciting fear. Why was this necessary? Dr. Marissel Hernández-Romero shared her experience of being followed by MPD when simply walking home (“Departing professor details racism on campus” – 7/2/20). Dr. Kemi Fuentes-George was stopped by MPD at the library and forced to provide his ID when he’d done nothing wrong (“Simply being black carries risk” – 7/2/20). These are three recent, documented examples of racial profiling and racism in our community perpetrated by the MPD, but how many more have occurred off the record? 
The policing of everyday actions causes Black people to police themselves in seemingly minute ways, but it actually harbors a lot of psychological weight. We must recognize that police perceive all Black people as threats; however, while light-skinned Black people are at risk of harm, they are not perceived as great of a threat as dark-skinned Black people. Even so, when I, Janae, a light-skinned Black woman, leave my house, I make sure my phone is charged in case I need to record a police interaction, I keep my purse in the front seat with my wallet nearby so I won’t have to reach for my license, I maintain the speed limit and am conscious every time I click on my turn signal; I worry about having my hands in sweater pockets, having my hood up, jaywalking, looking suspicious, sitting in my car alone. I ask myself: Is this the day I get assaulted? Is this the day I die? Even with the countless things I do “right” — the things I do to not be perceived as a threat — my safety is not guaranteed. The safety of Black people in the presence of police is not guaranteed. 
It is tempting to say that these instances are due to a lack of training or a few bad apples; but as Derecka Purnell writes, “Even the best apples surveil, arrest, and detain millions of people every year whose primary ‘crime’ is that they are poor or homeless, or have a disability.” To confront and rectify systemic racism, we must understand what it is and how it manifests — and above all, acknowledge that all of us, especially police departments given their racist history, cannot simply disengage from this system. Until our community feels safe and inclusive for all residents, it is not a safe and inclusive place. Black people are not threats and should not be treated as such. Black Lives Matter. 
Janae Due
Katie Gillespie
Maria Nava
On behalf  of I.D.E.A.L. Middlebury: Invest. Divest. Educate. Abolish. Liberate. Middlebury is a unified collective of people working to reduce community and systemic harm by creating new policies, support structures, and accountability measures for the town of Middlebury through an anti-racist, abolitionist framework to better serve all members of our community. If you are interested in joining our efforts, email us at idealmidd@gmail.com.
 

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