By Grace Filloramo
Around 6 p.m. every night, the quiet Battery Park overlooking Lake Champlain in Burlington floods with hundreds of people. “No justice, no peace” shout protestors as they peacefully march from the park to City Hall on Church Street. And that is exactly the plan, no peace until there is justice. On any given night, the protests can have anywhere from 100 to 500 protesters.
The focus is on three officers within the Burlington Police Department, officers Cory Campbell, Joseph Corrow and Jason Bellavance. All of them are under scrutiny for excessive use-of-force cases. The chants and cheers of protestors can be heard blocks away from the South end of Burlington to the Old North End. Protest rules state all protesters must wear masks or they are not allowed to participate. Everyone tries to stay 6 feet apart from one another and stay within the group they are there with.
On “Blackout Tuesdays and Thursdays” protestors get ready for the march by assembling into rows of threes at Battery Park. One row holds white cardboard signs with splatters of red paint signifying splattered blood, and written boldly in black are the names of black victims of police brutality within this country. The following row of three holds a bland cardboard sign with the names of the officers under fire, this pattern continues throughout the rows. Protestors raise their signs with one hand and with the other they raise a clenched fist high in the air, a universal symbol of black power, expressing strength, unity, defiance and resistance.
As protesters gather outside of City Hall, silhouettes of the leaders can be seen standing atop the steps of City Hall as the sun sets behind them. For the next hour or so the young leaders take turns passionately speaking on the racial injustices seen in the Burlington area before they start the march back to Battery Park.
These protests began on August 25 and have continued every night since. As the protests have sparked a strong sense of community amongst protestors, it has also exposed hatred and racism in Burlington.
“My roommate and I were blocking traffic at the Pearl Street intersection during a protest when a large black truck attempted to drive through the crowd, he was revving his engine and kept approaching the crowd slowly, he was shouting out his window to ‘get out of the way’” said University of Vermont student Caitlyn Kutash ‘22 . “As volunteers, we’re told to move out of the way if you ever sense a real threat, so we did. The man ended up getting by and luckily there were no injuries.”
“ We know that blocking traffic in Vermont is illegal and obviously with the country being as divided as it is, situations like this are bound to happen. I think there are certain circumstances where breaking the law is doing the right thing, it’s imperative as a white person to put your body on the line to protect the BIPOC (black, indegenious and people of color) community.”
Although Burlington is not Saint Michael’s direct community, the marches and encampment at Battery Park are open to anyone who wants to join the fight to dismantle systemic racism. For those who can’t march, there are plenty of other ways to help and get involved.
On campus, there are several opportunities to engage in social justice issues. “The MLK
Junior Society, Diversity Coalition, Common Ground, the Peace and Justice club and even SGA are just a handful of the student organizations that work on various social issues, engage in advocacy work, and create opportunities for educational dialogue.” said Sarah Childs, Assistant Dean of Students and Director for the Center for Multicultural Affairs & Services.
“I want to be a guiding hand for students, if they feel the school needs to do something differently on a social justice issue, I am here to enable them and help them figure out what their next steps could be.” As well as helping the fight for social change on campus, Childs shared one of several programming plans in the works that was developed to benefit students of color. “I am developing some affinity based programming with students of color in mind where they can come and just have space with one another, share experiences and work on healing in an affirming and supportive environment.”
The Black Perspective Vermont was created locally by Winooski High School student activists after the murder of George Floyd. “This is an activist organization which is really working to uplift the BIPOC voices in Vermont especially because there are so few of them.” said Danielle Schiestle* “The Black Perspective VT has been really good about posting on social media and cross promoting with other local non-profits and organizations, so following them on social media is really important, especially just to stay in the know about protests and other activities happening surrounding racial justice.”
On Sept. 21, a proposal that city council approved was put forth where Jason Bellevance would be let go by Oct. 5. “The removal of all three officers that are publicly known to be violent from the Department is the very least of what should be done to protect all people in our community and signal a serious change in standards.” said a public statement on behalf of The Black Perspective VT. On and off Saint Michael’s campus there’s opportunity to get involved with racial justice issues. Protests are still happening downtown and welcome anyone. Clubs and other organizations are a great way to be pushing for racial justice on campus.