Burlington Free Press | October 31, 2015 | Column by Joel Banner Baird
About 100 people gathered Saturday at Burlington City Hall to condemn the delivery this week of racially charged posters to at least two city residents, both of whom are people of color.
Police Chief Brandon del Pozo, who spoke at the rally, said he has yet to determined whether a crime was committed, but his department is investigating the source of the Ku Klux Klan flier.
"This was clearly motivated by bias," del Pozo said. "It's important to us to know who did this."
The letter-sized poster 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 purports to be from the "United Northern and Southern Knights" of the KKK, a group which on its website describes itself as a champion of "White Christian" values. Historically, the KKK has targeted African Americans, Jews and Catholics.
Del Pozo characterized the Klan as a terrorist group.
Jocellyn Harvey, 24, one of the recipients of the flier, said it had initially struck her as "just a really bad joke" when it came into her apartment mailbox on Thursday.
Gradually, as she circulated the literature over social media, she said she recognized the incident as a carefully targeted act.
"This is someone out there who knows I'm a black female," Harvey said.
Harvey said she does not consider herself a political activist.
The other known recipient of the flier declined to speak publicly, according to Rep. Kesha Ram, D-Burlington, a candidate for lieutenant governor, who also spoke at the hour-long event.
James Haslam, executive director of nonprofit Rights and Democracy, the event's primary organizer, described the incident as "a disturbing act of hate," adding "We have a huge responsibility as white people to stand up for racial justice, to show that hate doesn't have a home here."
Haslam and several others at the gathering questioned what they termed a slow response by the police department to the incidents.
The city became officially involved in the case Friday night when the father of the flier's second known recipient called a police dispatcher and was told that a crime had not been committed, del Pozo said.
Although understandable in the context of other, more urgent criminal activity, the dispatcher's response was inadequate, del Pozo told the crowd.
A more expedient community affairs team within the department, now in its formative stages, might help remedy such miscommunications, he added.
Haslam said the process served as "an important wake-up call, a learning experience," and del Pozo agreed.
Another point of agreement: Rallies such as this one, said Mayor Miro Weinberger, "show that Burlington is sending a message that this is an inclusive place."
Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan, who is also running for Vermont Attorney General in the upcoming election, elaborated on the theme of public strategies to combat what he called "quasi-legal intimidation" in the region.
"The criminal justice process does not always heal the wounds of a crime," said Donovan, "What can heal the wounds is to stand in solidarity, to recognize we are one community. Let's stand together and root out racism in this state."
Vicki Garrison of Essex Junction, holding up a "Black Lives Matter" sign throughout the rally, told the mostly white crowd that entrenched privilege and power continue to dominate dialogue on race.
Then, paraphrasing the late Caribbean-American author Audre Lourde, Garrison urged local minorities to speak up quickly and loudly in the face of intimidation: "Your silence will not save you."
Rights and Democracy is organizing another "speak-out" rally against racism at 7 p.m. on Thursday in front of Burlington City Hall, Haslam said.
This story first appeared online on Oct. 31, 2015.
Contact Joel Banner Baird at joelbaird@freepressmedia or (802) 660-1843
Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/vtgoingup.