Committee looks at issue of racial profiling in Vermont

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(Host) African Americans face frequent and arbitrary police stops in Vermont. And Mexican nationals are apparently detained more here than in most of New England.

These were some of the stories that an advisory committee on civil rights heard today. The committee is examining the issue of racial profiling in Vermont.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The 2,500 Mexicans living in Vermont are often hidden away on dairy farms where they work long hours in the barns and milking parlors.

But when they do leave their rural workplaces they are easily visible in a state that’s almost all-white.

(Anguiano) “People of Mexican origin, whether they are undocumented or authorized migrants or U.S. citizens, are certainly very obvious, very conspicuous.”

(Dillon) Amaparo Anguiano is deputy consul for the Mexican consulate in Boston. She works with Mexicans in all the New England states except for Connecticut. She told the Vermont advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that racial profiling likely occurs in Vermont.

(Anguiano) “We have known of some cases where people seem to have been targeted, because either they looked foreign or different or because of driving out of state car plates. We know of a case in which six people were detained, and they informed they were actually followed by a police car, and were detained after shopping.”

(Dillon) Anguiano says that so far this year 82 Mexicans have been arrested in Vermont — the highest number of all the states she covers.

While she focused on the plight of foreign nationals living in a rural state, deputy defender general Anna Saxman talked about potential racial bias in the justice system.

The prejudice and profiling may range from the police in a patrol car to a judge on the bench. Saxman gave this example of an African American graduate student who lived in Vermont for a year.

(Saxman) “During that year he was stopped 13 times by the police, never given a traffic ticket, never arrested for anything. Apparently he was violating no laws. Yet he was regularly subjected to stops. On his first day in Vermont, he was stopped twice. What message are we sending?”

(Dillon) But Saxman said it’s almost impossible to prove bias without hard numbers. She said the state should gather information on the ethnicity of people stopped by police. She also urged the civil rights panel to look beyond racial profiling by police.

(Saxman) “I believe that racial bias extends beyond the police into other aspects of the criminal justice system, the juvenile justice system and other state agencies. I think we need to broaden the discussion.”

(Dillon) Public Safety Commissioner Tom Tremblay was in the audience for the hours of testimony. Tremblay previously worked as police chief in Burlington, the state’s most ethnically diverse community.

(Tremblay) “This has been a big part of my leadership in law enforcement. I’ve heard these concerns before and… perception and reality of racial profiling in Vermont has got to be addressed. And I intend to address it.”

(Dillon) The advisory committee is charged with forwarding recommendations to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. It will accept written comments on the racial profiling issue through mid-August.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.



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