By Michelle Amidzich, News Editor
On Saturday, June 6, Vermont Law School’s Environmental Justice Law Society and Safe Spaces for BIPoC organized a “Rally to End the Violence” on the green in South Royalton. Hundreds of people gathered together for the event, while still practicing social distancing and adhering to face mask guidelines.
Alicia Barrow, co-founder of Safe Spaces for BIPoC, hosted the event. “There have been so many lives lost. I could not bring them all with me here today, so I carry them in my heart,” said Barrow as she asked the crowd to join her in repeating the names of black lives lost to police violence. Barrow read over 200 names, including their ages and cause of death. Over two-hundred lives lost to violence. “But there are many, many more,” said Barrow.
Then, Barrow asked the crowd to either kneel or lie face down with their arms behind their backs. The crowd stayed like this for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd. “The reality is – we are hunted down and killed for sport while jogging. Murdered in our sleep in our homes,” said Barrow.
Jameson Davis, a Vermont Law Student and Selectboard Member for the Town of Hartford, had the audience do an exercise. Davis asked everyone to hold their breath and raise their hand when they could not any longer. Most of the audience had their hands up by forty seconds. “George Floyd was expected to hold his breath while having 200 pounds of pressure on his neck stuck in between concrete,” said Davis.
Many Black speakers shared their stories of racism, discrimination, and pain. A speaker read a poem written by a young black man titled “A $20 Dollar Bill.” The poem talks about how many die, whether in the military or for love, and how some – like George Floyd – died because of a twenty-dollar bill. The speaker followed the poem with a prayer for the community.
Clouds rolled in and the wind picked up as Dean Shirley Jefferson, associate dean for student affairs at Vermont Law School, took the stage. Her words and energy matched the incoming storm.
“I’m not going to let you kill black people. I’m not going to drink dirty water. I’m not going to breathe dirty air. I’m not, I’m not, I’m not,” said Dean Jefferson. “I am American. This is my country. I fought for it. I bled for it,” Dean Jefferson said to the crowd over the thunder and strong wind. She ended her speech by starting the chant “No Justice No Peace” as she walked off stage into the pouring rain with the crowd.
“Tonight is about community,” said Tabitha Pohl-Moore, Vermont director of the NAACP and president of the Rutland-area branch. Pohl-Moore emphasized that non-black allies cannot continue to mourn Black death without investing in Black life. Pohl-Moore asked the crowd to take their phones out and text “Justice” to 802-881-0020. Next, Pohl-Moore told gatherers to sign a petition at naacprutland.org and to become a member or volunteer.
Volunteers passed out “Calls to Action” that had the names Barrow read on the back. The “Calls to Action” listed four demands, which included educational materials, Call the Haven, donating, and finding local Black owned businesses to support.
Volunteers also passed out information on how to learn more, ways to act, and ways to contribute to the Black Lives Matter Fund and bail funds. The other side of the slip included information about MPD150, an organization dedicated to “an integrated approach to the MPD [Minneapolis Police Department] and its relationship with the communities it polices encompassing its past, present and future.” The slip included quotes from some people in MPD150 talking about what a police-free world looks like. One quote says, “Justice is prioritized over retribution. Healing is prioritized over righteousness. No one is disposable.”
“You know the word hope feels really hallow right now. It feels overused. It feels like its lost its meaning,” said Khalil Abdullah, Muslim adviser and multifaith adviser at the William Jewett Tucker Center at Dartmouth College. “But it’s the only thing we have. Do not give up on it.”
Another rally, this time hosted by Hustle & Loyalty Records, supported by Babes Bar, The Rutland Area NAACP, and many more will be on Saturday, June 13, from 2-6PM. For more information, visit @babesvt on Instagram and Facebook.
For more information on rallies and ways to get involved, please visit Safe Spaces for BIPoC and Allies on Facebook, https://naacprutland.org/, and https://www.mpd150.com/.