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Pledging allegiance

A group of off-duty state troopers were caught in a brazen act of self incrimination. Now that there is clear evidence, who will be held accountable? And how?

WESTMINSTER WEST — It seems like a bad dream: a group of off-duty state troopers invent rap verses using the most egregious of language - including “If being racist is right then I'll never be wrong” and multiple uses of “NAPA,” an acronym for “North American pavement ape” - while playing online games.

Not an imagined nightmare, this series of events occurred among Vermont State Police troopers at the Westminster barracks. Documentation of this behavior, including names of troopers participating, was reported to Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Jennifer Morrison this past month.

The question is: Now that there is clear evidence, who will be held accountable, and how?

Should the troopers themselves be held accountable to uphold their roles as public servants and accountable to all Vermonters? Should their supervisor, a trooper himself, who quickly elevated the incident to the state commissioner? Should it be the Commissioner herself, who failed to dig deeper into the issue to find out the facts?

Or should it be we, the people, who have not made clear to our public officials the kind of place we want to live, the ways we want to treat one another, and just how we ourselves want to be held accountable? We, who have not asked legislators for the means to train, support, and hire the type of officers we want protecting our streets?

Is it only a matter of time that words turn to actions and we have our own George Floyd or Tyre Nichols? Is it too far a leap to imagine in Vermont - when we already know police stop Black, Indigenous, and Vermonters of color at triple the rate they do white Vermonters?

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As of Feb. 14, Athens, Bellows Falls, Bennington, Brattleboro, Brookline, Chester, Guilford, Jamaica, Newfane, Putney, Rockingham, Saxtons River, and Vernon have all taken steps to push back against some of the ways we discourage and exclude the full spectrum of people and possibilities for our state.

Most recently, on Feb. 13, Jamaica made the following declaration:

“The Town of Jamaica condemns in the strongest terms any effort to spread targeted messages of hate that are designed to induce fear in any member of our community. Hateful speech aimed at any member of our community will not be tolerated.

“Happily Jamaica is a diverse and vibrant community. We support all of the members of our community who engage in peaceful demonstrations and constructive dialogue.

“As a town we welcome all persons regardless of race, color, religion, socioeconomic status, national origin, gender identity, age, or disability. We condemn discrimination in all its forms and will strive to ensure all our actions, policies and operating procedures reflect this commitment.”

Joining with close to 95 other municipalities across Vermont, Jamaica has pledged allegiance to the values of inclusion and welcome. It is a means by which the town will begin to hold its citizens accountable for the respect and treatment we all deserve.

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At town meetings in Dummerston and Westminster in March, those towns will also take up such commitments for discussion.

As a resident of Westminster, which hosts the barracks at which these state troopers serve our county, I like to imagine a day when, upon graduation from training in Vermont, all state police and troopers make such a pledge.

And I hold the dream that we, in turn, stand up as citizens with them, holding ourselves and our leaders accountable for being the kind of people we want to be for each other.

No matter if we live in the hills of Dummerston or the deep valley of Westminster, no matter our politics or personalities. Now is time to be the people we want to be for each other and for our neighbors.

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