Protest at Battery Park against Police brutality

Call to protestors to pause the protest and organize for long-term systemic change

This moment has been a long time coming.

In 2018, several young black men suffered due to the unnecessary use of force by Burlington police officers. As elected officials we were not aware of these incidents until eight months after the incidents occurred and inappropriate discipline had already been applied by the former chief of police and members of the Police Commission. There have been multiple attempts to bring about justice for these past incidents without any concrete positive results. Some important questions arose from what happened that I have been grappling with: Why did both the mayor and city attorney choose to hold back critical public safety information from the council and the community? What have we done to bring some level of justice and fairness to those decision making processes? And now, what is an alternative that could bring consensus to the protestors demands? What is the role of the community and the rule of law?

Under our city’s charter, the chief of police has the authority to hire or fire police officers subject to an appeal to the police commission. The city council has the authority to approve or disapprove of the mayor’s choice for a police chief. While the council cannot hire or fire a police officer, the council could have provided some level of justice long ago by using the power of their vote for the chief of police.

Did anyone on the council have the courage to stand up around the re-appointment of the former chief of police in 2019? I did. The mayor’s proposal was to vote for his full slate of department heads. I asked that we vote separately for the police chief, but other city councilors were against a separate vote.

The council had the opportunity to request the termination of the officers. There were options before the COVID emergency when the city had the financial means. The officers could have been terminated and offered severance. This would have required us to have the courage for a lengthy legal fight for justice. Progressives and Democrats on the city council made it clear they did not want to go that route and they did not want to vote against the re-appointment of the police chief.

Following this spring’s death of George Floyd and the revival of national Black Lives Matter protests, I proposed the following amendment to the Racial Justice Alliance’s resolution in June: “Due to the unsafe feeling of our community about the continued service of officers Jason Bellavance and Joseph Corrow on the Burlington Police Department as foot patrols, the City Council strongly requests for acting Police Chief Murad to transfer the two officers listed above to the Burlington Airport to continue their service as Police Officers of Burlington.” Acting Chief Murad and the city’s attorney declared this was not possible. I was quite surprised and disappointed to learn later (at a special city council meeting on 9/8) that it was actually possible, as one of the officers has now been transferred to the airport.

This September I asked the mayor a simple question: What is being done by your administration about the protests and protests’ demands? The mayor’s response was to share only in the council’s executive session. The simple answer was nothing was being done, despite two weeks of camping out by courageous young protestors putting their safety on the line.

It is time to face the fact that our local government as a whole is not performing well and that there are few prospects of improvement when it comes to equity and justice. All that we are experiencing as a community right now could have been prevented by acting rightfully at the right time. These protests and all they stand for are only amplifying my call for justice made for so long now.

Justice has already been denied by the local government. However, this is not the time to quit in the fight for social change and social justice. It is hard work to bring people together; the process is messy and takes a long time. I will not quit and nobody should, especially now. Protestors, please listen to my perspective as a black person. Take the energy and passion you have for justice and channel it from protest into organizing. It is time to organize for the long-term systemic change we need to create a just and equitable Burlington.

Three hands

Let’s Work Together

In these times of deep political discord, anger and confusion along with rising hatred and sometimes silence in response, we can each individually grow, learn from our mistakes, take responsibility for our judgment, and hold each other accountable while also striving to do better for the sake of future generations.

The killing of George Floyd in Minnesota and the momentum for change that has followed has moved the needle in the right direction by allowing us as human beings to take the time to reflect on our actions, then work to dismantle the systems of inequity and provide opportunities for everyone. Recently in my city we have perhaps inaccurately framed the discussion of change that is needed in our community. It seems as if the discussion is framed as either ‘pro-police’ or ‘anti-police.’ It is unfortunate that we are not really talking about the much needed deep culture change we need in our local police department. It is unfortunate that we still do not have the level of reparation needed for those who have been victimized by our safety institutions. It is unfortunate that we still cannot let go of those in our police department not serving us well due to the systems of protection we collectively allowed to prevail unchecked for so long.

The atrocities we have been witnessing around the nation are heartbreaking, with black people being killed and shot at in broad daylight at the hands of police, and in some cases, in front of their children and families. Before we even wiped away our tears from the death of George Floyd, more black people were killed. The latest name on that long list is Jacob Blake, shot several times in the back as he opened the door of a parked car in Wisconsin. So many lives lost, families devastated and communities terrorized. We must say, Black Lives Matter. Some might say, well, Wisconsin is not Vermont, Minneapolis is not Burlington. But the elements of racism are here, and again, in Burlington, Black Lives Matter.

At the same time as we grieve and protest and call for action, I am also inviting everyone in my community to bring respect and collaboration to this conversation. I recently saw a post that included a sign placed in front of the police department building with incredibly vulgar and violent language directed at the police. I condemn such messages of hatred toward the men and women serving in our safety institutions. What message are we sending to children when they read signs like that? We absolutely do need systemic change in our policy department. But also, police officers are people; they are our neighbors, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, and they are human beings that chose this profession to serve and protect. Are all police officers good people? No. Just as all people of all professions are not all good people. But my point is, we are much better than this, much better than this hateful language, and much better than the us-versus-them, all-or-nothing approach of pro- or anti-police.

We have come a long way as a community. We can peacefully protest. We can disagree while being respectful. We can assertively call for change. And we can make progress. Let’s work together to build the police department and the fair, inclusive Burlington that we all want and need. Let’s do it together.

Mr. Ali Dieng
Burlington Ward 7 City Councilor
alidieng.com
diengali9@gmail.com

802-318-2527

Burlington VT Bike Lanes

Bike Lane Proposal

Hello Neighbors,

The New North End City Councilors Paulino, Carpenter and Dieng have been in communication with members of the Burlington Walk/Bike Council & Local Motion, an organization working to build quality of life by encouraging walking and biking, about their proposal to the City of Burlington that is primarily intended to achieve two objectives: to provide safe transportation for populations who rely on GMT buses, and to create the spaces needed for people and businesses to resume economic activity.

The proposal is specific to some major city streets including North Ave., seeking to implement better bike lane protection during the massive public health emergency. Full Proposal HERE.

Below you will find the North Ave. proposal: “Install protection for bike lanes on North Avenue where space permits. While we acknowledge that infrastructure improvements on North Avenue have been met with controversy in the past, the Red Line has the highest ridership of all of GMT’s routes, and is thus a priority corridor for bike infrastructure, especially given the crowding issues on the Greenway. Installing protection along North Avenue will also reduce illegal speeding and thereby improve safety and quality of life for all users—people driving, people walking, and people rolling—and would not require any changes to the traffic pattern.”

While we recognize that the upgrade of bike lane infrastructure could be a hot topic in our neighborhood, as your councilors, we wanted to simply hear thoughts from residents of the New North End before the proposal is discussed at the full Burlington City Council so that we can have a unified voice bringing your thoughts to the discussion. Please note that no action has been taken or even discussed at the council at this point. We just would like to simply hear from you about it.

Here is the process:
Have a presentation from Jonathan Weber, a representative from Walk /Bike Council, Local Motion (also a resident of the New North End) to explain the proposal in detail.
Have residents ask clarifying questions to Mr. Jonathan and provide your thoughts and perspectives.
The meeting is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, June 2nd from 6:30- 8:30 pm via Zoom. Here is the link to participate: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81282610586?pwd=QUxhTldTQzFaazhJbjFwOTRzUUNkUT09

If the link does not work on FPF, please log in to zoom and use Meeting ID: 812 8261 0586 Password: 199541

One tap mobile
+13126266799,,81282610586#,,1#,199541# US (Chicago)
+16468769923,,81282610586#,,1#,199541# US (New York)

We hope that you will join us for this input gathering process ready to learn and share your perspective on this matter.
If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact your New North End City Councilors:

District City Councilor, Franklin Paulino: fpaulino@burlington.gov
Ward 4 City Councilor, Sarah Carpenter: scarpenter@burlingtonvt.gov
Ward 7 City Councilor, Ali Dieng: adieng@burlingtonvt.gov

Wash Your Hands

COVID-19 Message

Dear Neighbors,

How are you doing? I hope you and your loved ones are well.
We are living in unprecedented times as a community, state, country and even as humans. Directly or indirectly, we are all dealing with a massive public health emergency. The global Covid19 outbreak has substantially changed our norms of life, everything we used to do or enjoyed doing is changing. Schools are closed, nonessential businesses are closed, people are required to stay home.

We need and must follow the state guidelines of social distancing, staying 6 feet away from each other, regularly washing our hands and following the ‘stay at home’ order from the Governor of Vermont. This is not only his recommendation but also the request from our healthcare providers, doctors and nurses. As they say it best “we are showing up to work for you, please stay at home for us”. The virus is here in our community. Two days ago, I learned that a friend, who is a nurse, has tested positive for the coronavirus. Soon enough we all might know someone directly who is fighting to beat the virus. My deepest hope is that we don’t get there.

This outbreak has shown me more than ever before what Vermont is about when it comes to community mindedness. In Burlington, we have witnessed regular people stepping up to support one another – businesses showing innovation in keeping people employed, people donating funds to local organizations that directly support people in need, musicians providing concerts from their homes, sidewalks are filled with beautiful messages of support and hope.
An example is a FPF post yesterday on Ethan Allen Parkway from Liz Pieroni on Gazo Ave. seeking participation in a community art project: “All we have to do is to cut out a heart or hearts and then display them on your door or window. Feel free to write a wish for the community or people working hard to keep everyone safe such as our health care providers”. Please let’s show the wave of love through the New North End & Burlington. I know that my children, as part of their homeschooling schedule, enjoyed doing this project.

The impact of this outbreak cannot be seen or felt fully as of yet but we have to stay positive and hopeful by continuing the level of support and by stepping up to lend a hand in any way we can. I am confident that we will get through this and then start to think about the road to economic recovery as a state and city.

As you probably know, thousands of people have lost their jobs. The City has established a virtual Resource and Recovery Center. The contact info RRC is: recovery@burlingtonvt.gov – 802-755-7239.

If you are an elder living in the New North End or someone with underlining health conditions in need of support to run errands such as medication pick up, grocery shopping, some light outdoor work, please feel free to contact me at adieng@burlingtonvt.gov or 802-318-2527.
Hang in there, the best days are yet to come.

With love and gratitude
Ali

Burlington Telecom - Champlain Broadband

Reinvesting in Burlington Telecom

Many of my constituents may have questions about whether or not the City of Burlington should reinvest in Burlington Telecom. Burlington Telecom was sold to Schurz Communications for
$30.8 million (the process began in 2017 and was finalized in 2019). Schurz Communications is a corporate company based in Indiana.

When I joined the Burlington City Council in the summer of 2017, I, along with some other city councilors and many community members backed the local co-ownership proposal “Keep
Burlington Telecom Local.” We fought really hard to keep the company local, as we learned about its potential. This model aligned with my beliefs of what a sustainable community should
look like with its own utilities such as clean water, electricity, and to some extent a fiber optic broadband network (built by the city) to supply our schools, city departments, local
businesses and residences.

As part of our due diligence on this issue, the council received a presentation from Schurz Communications around the benefits and risks of reinvesting part of the proceeds of our sale
into the company. It does not seem that those in favor of reinvestment are discussing the risks.

As you consider this issue for yourself, ask the questions about what we really want and need in our community related to stability and affordability. Here are some questions I have been
considering that you may wish to think about when you discuss the idea of reinvesting funds:

Has the city received advice from an independent entity different from Schurz on the idea of reinvesting in the company? The answer is NO. The city has not contracted with any
independent entity that has telecommunication business expertise and all projections for growth are assumptions from Schurz. If the growth projections are wrong, the financial growth could be overstated and the city could lose most or all of our investment.

Are we dealing with a local Vermont organization or an outside corporate organization? The answer is that Schurz is a corporation based out of Indiana with a corporate Board of Directors.
If the city invested in Schurz ($2.4 million of sale proceeds to purchase a 7.5% membership interest), we would have only one seat on the board of directors of the Schurz local affiliate
known as “Champlain Broadband Corporation.” Given this structure, it is important to add that some decisions are made at the bigger corporate level and those decisions might not align with
our local community values.

Are there additional risks? Yes, there are risks related to competition, potential changes in the ways that people communicate, i.e. if another technology is developed, risks of Schurz selling
the company, risks of lawsuits, and others. All these risks should be carefully considered before moving forward.

My view is that we are a city with many competing priorities, and as an elected official, I constantly hear that Burlington is becoming unaffordable. I believe that we need to strive for
stability, smart growth, and making decisions that will have a positive impact on future generations. We have already borrowed from our future via many bonds (water infrastructure,
high school renovation, etc.), and there are many additional projects that require substantial amounts of funding. It is imperative that we increase our tax base carefully without taking undue
risks. I personally believe we also need closure around the issue of Burlington Telecom and move forward as a community.

I’m happy to discuss my point of views with you and hear your thoughts.

Precautionary Boil Water Advisory

Social Empathy for the Underprivileged

The City has prioritized equity reports over the past couple of years and has allocated enough resources for the gathering, design, and distribution of such reports.

Let’s ask ourselves, who is better off having access to such a report? How does it affect the quality of life of our residents? How did it ensure the safety and well being of each and every one living in our community?

We are all aware that our city and county have changed substantially in terms of demographic shift since the 80’s, making Chittenden County the most diverse county in our state and Burlington one of the most diverse municipalities in Vermont. According to a 2017 report from the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, 97% of the population growth in our county was due to New Americans.

Recently in the city we have seen tools being created to improve communications, dashboards are being developed, and systems are in trial phase. None of these tools address the fundamental role of public governance to keep people safe by making city communications accessible to everyone.

During a similar water boiling notice that took place in late July 2019 in the South End of Burlington, I shifted my work schedule to make sure information was communicated to four major language community groups in Burlington, and then requested for the city to implement a language access plan for such communication to be accessible and understood by all community members. The Administration reassured me then that the the Community Economic and Development Office was leading the effort to develop a “language access plan” which would have an emphasis on outreach to speakers with limited English proficiency.

It’s incontestable that when we prioritize serving the people, timely, accurate and equitable communication tools should be accessed by all members of the community especially when the lack of communication could have a detrimental effect on the health and quality of life of members of the community.

The real and important question to be asked is why the City of Burlington is relying on Facebook alone to share translated written messages? Why has the administration not tapped into the effective communication tools of the Burlington School District to share life saving information to parents and guardians of our children?

Equality is defined as everyone having shoes, whereas equity is defined as everyone having shoes that fit them. We can only learn to harmonize many competing priorities by starting to make communication accessible to everyone. This is a request to shift resources from the general equity report and focus on an equitable language access plan.