Krowinski: Black Lives Matter

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Krowinski: Black Lives Matter

Tue, 06/09/2020 - 2:02pm -- tim

by Representative Jill Krowinski Alongside so many Vermonters, I am devastated and outraged by the brutal killing of George Floyd, as well as the ongoing deaths and horrendous mistreatment of so many black and brown people in our communities and nation. As a white woman leader, I am working to become more conscious of my privilege and feel a strong urgency to use my platform to speak up and speak out against this injustice.

I am acutely aware that Vermonters are looking for more than just empathy and sorrow; they rightly expect us to do more to affirm that Black Lives Matter by transforming the institutional structures of racism that exist in Vermont. 

Building a strong foundation to address these inequities starts with confronting my own biases, while also shining a light on the systemic inequities that permeate our policy forums and overall political system. There is long-established institutional racism in the very foundations of the infrastructure that bind our citizens, communities and government together. Right now is the time to reflect deeply, then act intentionally to dismantle those systems of oppression and repair the wrongs of the past.

In these difficult days of strife and unrest, I hold close a line from the mission statement of the Legislature’s Social Equity Caucus, “to institutionalize equity and inclusivity” in our work in the People’s House of the Vermont State Legislature. I am committed to the work of racial justice, to be courageous and thoughtful in what we take on collectively as a legislative body, and to be humble in becoming more dedicated listeners, allies, and amplifiers.

This legislative session, we began some of this work with:

  • The passage of Act 1, establishing a taskforce to address social equity in our statewide academic standards. This bill works to ensure our next generation of leaders have a strong foundation and are learning from a more accurate curriculum that reflects the history, contributions and perspectives of all ethnic groups and social groups. 

  • PR.2, a proposal of amendment to the Vermont Constitution removes references to slavery and indentured servitude and clarifies that these acts are prohibited. I can think of no greater way to institutionalize equity and inclusion than by dismantling some of the structural racism that permeates the foundation of our state in our Constitution. The amendment was approved by the 2019-2020 Legislature, and we’ll ensure its passage in 2021 when we vote on it again.

  • Creating a statewide standard and model of a fair and impartial policing policy within Act 41 that (1) protects Vermonters from discrimination at the hands of police departments and (2) limits the sharing of information about a person’s immigration status between law enforcement and federal authorities.

  • Establishing a Social Equity Caucus, with the mission to focus deliberately on improving outcomes for marginalized peoples and create a vehicle for Vermonters to access their representation, leadership and community.

We are currently working in these areas:

  • S.338, Justice Reinvestment II, which continues reform of our criminal justice system by implementing new policies around furlough, probation, and parole. It invests savings in evidence-based programming and community supports to ensure successful reentries to communities for Vermonters.

  • Examining the use of deadly force by law enforcement, and creating a consistent policy to limit its use to only the defense of human life, and establishing oversight, education, and evaluation of any force used.

  • A shared commitment to prioritize racial and ethnic minorities and vulnerable, marginalized communities so that as we appropriate federal stimulus money in this moment of crisis. It is essential that we reduce, rather than widen, the well-documented and institutionalized gaps in access to health care, financial and educational opportunities, justice, and security.    

These and other policy changes are in progress and we must do this work in concert with communities of color and with racial justice coalitions to prioritize these critical efforts.

This policy work is incomplete without the difficult personal work we white people must do to reveal and unravel our own implicit and explicit biases. For legislators, this is important work to do both as members of society and community leaders, and is absolutely critical for us as policy makers who craft the rules by which we can build a Vermont which works for all, not just the select few. Each legislator brings not only their community’s needs, but their own life experiences, including their implicit and explicit biases to the decision-making tables.

Since the founding of this country’s democracy, the rules crafted by policy makers have been stacked, both intentionally and blindly, against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. 

To institutionalize equity and inclusivity means we must question “the way we’ve always done things.”

As a white woman leader in a position of power, I understand that I must do better, and that I have a responsibility to adjust my own behaviors and take on the work of dismantling racism in new ways. This isn’t the work of only a few leaders though, this is all of our work. I hope that you will join me; contact your elected leaders at every level, continue with collective action and protest, keep engaging in this conversation and raising your voice. It’s going to take hard work from all of us: confronting our own biases and collectively pushing forward to make these essential changes.

We cannot back down, we must push forward together.

Representative Jill Krowinski is the House Majority Leader (Chittenden 6-3)