Burlington Free Press | November 6, 2015 | Column by Haley Dover
Red Square turned the music up louder as hundreds of protesters gathered at City Hall in response to Klu Klux Klan posters that were placed on the homes of two Burlington residents of color late last week.
"Screw racism," said Senowa Mize-Fox of Burlington.
The member of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), said she has no tolerance for the Klan.
"This is a racist incident," she said. "Racism is alive and well everywhere, including Burlington and we have to address that."
Mize-Fox was one of nearly 200 people who marched down Church Street to City Hall on Thursday. A rally, hosted by the nonprofit group Rights & Democracy, was held as an expression of solidarity and statement that people will not tolerate such displays of hate in the community, organizers said in a Facebook Event.
The nonprofit, established in May, is dedicated to bringing Vermont's polices in line with the wants and needs of the majority of the people in the state.
The group also is encouraging Vermonters to sign an "open letter against hate." The petition calls on the Burlington Police Department, the city's elected leaders and members of the Burlington community to "ensure safety and justice for all."
As of 9 p.m. Thursday, the petition had more than 700 supporters. The petitions lists a goal of acquiring 1,000 electronic signatures.
The rally comes several days after Rights & Democracy hosted a press conference at City Hall. About 100 people attended.
"If there is a silver lining to this incident, it is the way that so many citizens have voiced support for the victims and affirmed their commitment to justice and equality in Burlington, and throughout Vermont," Police Chief Brandon del Pozo wrote in an email to the Burlington Free Press.
The letter-sized poster in question reads, "Join The Klan and Save Our Land!!!!" and depicts a hooded, cross-wielding horseman against a backdrop of a U.S. colonial flag and a Confederate battle flag.
The message states it came from the "United Northern and Southern Knights" of the KKK. The organization describes itself as a champion of "White Christian" values on its website. Historically, the KKK has targeted African Americans, Jews and Catholics.
At least two Burlington residents of color received the racially charged posters on Oct. 29."
Guests sitting outside at Ken's Pizza and Pub put their slices down as the chants of about 50 UE members and people from the community bounced off of the buildings on the Church Street Marketplace on Thursday.
"KKK get out of town, we have come to shut you down," the group sang. "KKK get off our streets, the union will tear off your sheets."
Upon arriving at City Hall for the rally, the group cheered in unison as more community members joined the crowd. People were backed up nearly to the doors of Red Square, where the music got louder as the night went on.
Two people wearing Guy Fawkes masks — a symbol of the pro-Catholic activist who was part of a plot to assassinate King James I in 1605 — stood on the outskirts of the crowd. The masks are associated with the activist group Anonymous that planned to release 1,000 names of KKK members on Thursday.
Several times one of the masked people raised two fingers in the air.
Closer to the steps of City Hall, Thomas Berube, a member of the Society of Saint Edmund, held a sign that said "Black Lives Matter." He said he was attending the rally for the same reason he attended Saturday's press conference — to be a representative of the community.
"We really can't be silent when things like this happen," he said, holding a sign with the phrase "Black Lives Matter."
Anna Stevens of Burlington hoisted up a sign that read "hate" with a slash through it.
"It's intolerance," she said.
More than a dozen speakers addressed the crowd, calling for an end to institutional racism. Representatives from Burlington's Peace & Justice Center, Justice For All and Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform asked the community to come together to "stand in solidarity for the betterment of humanity."
Vicki Garrison, a native Vermonter who has organized several Black Lives Matter protests, said she hopes to see more work done from the Burlington Police Department. She shared the story of one of the women who received the KKK poster at her home.
"When one of the women's mothers called the police, the complaint was dismissed," Garrison told the crowd. "We put pressure on the police department and now we have a very different response — a full investigation."
"Clearly in unity there is power."
Police on Tuesday released grainy surveillance photos of a "person of interest" in the distribution of the KKK fliers within the city.
The photos of the person were taken in a downtown Burlington copy center, police said.
"At this stage we have yet to uncover any evidence that would suggest that this distasteful conduct rose to criminal conduct," said Lt. Shawn Burke.
Anyone with information related to the identity of the man in the photos is urged to call Burlington police or the Champlain Valley Crime Stoppers at 864-6666.
Contact Haley Dover at 660-1850 or email@example.com. Follow Haley on Twitter at www.twitter.com/HaleyRDover.