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