I read a wonderful article on a blog today, the Vermont Political Observer, entitled, A passel o’ peevishness on Inauguration Day (Part One) written by John Walters, in response to yesterday’s protest at the Vermont Statehouse. The action, organized by the Vermont Workers’ Center, was a direct result to Gov Shumlin’s recent announcement that he would no longer be working to formulate a budget plan to support Act 48 –the law passed in 2011. This law made VT the first state to that Health Care is a Human Right, and as such, will be publicly financed and made available to all VT residents, beginning in 2017. (In fact, it was the cornerstone of Mr. Shumlin’s promise to us that garnered our support, and got him elected.) The only point in this article, however, with which I disagree, is in his assessment of Ms. Shela Linton, the Field Organizer for VWC for Windham County, saying she should receive his “whiny award”.
What he did not realize –because the cameras did not capture softer spoken words of police to her, and hidden details seen by others to each side of her– is that the police began to apply their “motivate-with-pain” techniques within moments of their request for her to leave. Other passive-resistant arrestees (those who went limp) did not have their arms jacked up behind their backs, while their wrists were also being twisted in an opposite direction, to a pain-inducing degree. While Ms. Linton was still seated, an officer was beginning to apply this “motivation”, yanking her arm, bent at the elbow, upwards, and slightly into her body (which causes the arrestee to lean forward slightly, to force compliance) she stated, three times, and calmly, “you’re hurting me”. The officer then said something to the affect of “I’ll stop when you behave”. They proceeded then to haul her upright, and continued to apply even more pain inducement, which, as seen in the video, caused her to crumple to the ground. All the way to the processing room, they continued using the arm and wrist pain-technique; this was unwarranted and abusive. And it led to her need of emergency medical care.
The other woman of color in the sit-in circle, on whom less than professional and painful tactics were used, was also the only person to be placed in handcuffs, even thought she had remained passive. And, another person of color, there to support of the sit-in protesters, was also handled without cause, by a Statehouse officer who then tried to deny his actions when the man protested having hands placed on him; except there was a witness, who spoke up and described to the officer exactly how he had placed his hands on the gentleman in an attempt to control the man’s movement while questioning him.
As for the arrestees, however, not a single other passive-resistant protester was “encouraged to comply” with the use of cuffs or applied pain. The white arrestees were allowed or assisted to stand, or carried like a swing by the arms and feet, or simply dragged part way until another officer caught up to pick up the arrestees’ legs. Simply denying such discriminatory behavior–intended or not– does not erase the fact that it happened. And it won’t end until it is first acknowledged.
Remember, too, that this was an action of non-violent Civil Disobedience; all members who risked arrest had to agree to be peaceful, and non-combative during any potential arrest before being allowed to participate. In fact, this request was brought up to the group of protesters again, just prior to the start of the arrests, and all the members of the group reaffirmed their commitment to non-violent conduct if arrested. Even later, during the processing of arrestees, as one gentleman was expressing himself with more aggressive language, he managed to calm his expressive demeanor, when reminded by another arrestee in the room that his conduct represented everyone involved.
The proper way to remove a non-combative, but passive-resistant protester, in such a way as to minimize harm to both protester and officer, is thus: two officers stand side by side and in front of the arrestee; in concert they bend at the knee -in order to use leg muscles rather than strain back muscles- the officers loop his/her arm that is closest to the arrestee, under the arrestee’s armpit. Each officer uses bicep, shoulder and leg strength to lift the protester. The protester is then easily and safely lifted up and dragged backwards, without causing pain, and minimizing potential injury. I saw this used many times during my time with the Occupy protest encampment on Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC (a good example here. Start at the 5:10 mark).
It is unfathomable to think that our own Vermont police ranks have not been taught this method. It seems they were aware of it, and were capable of implementing it with other, even larger sized, but white, protesters, as seen in contrast with the two videos here.
About 25+ years ago VT police were made aware of no-pain methods of removing protesters. I know this because, in the beginning of my own NVCD activism, during which I risked arrest (and subsequently was), the resultant outcry over the abusive use of pain-inducing methods led to then-Governor, Madeleine Kunin’s public demand that all non-combative protestors be arrested without the use of force, or intentionally inflicting pain. Further, she demanded that all police troops immediately be trained in non-pain inducing techniques to remove non-combative, non-violent civil disobedience protesters.
So I have to wonder: Why, in the face of such historical knowledge, did the police opt to use pain –and actual harm–in this instance? And why, specifically, were these methods used on the only protester whose skin coloring is darker than the greater numbers of obvious Caucasian NVCD protesters? The behaviors of the officers involved just stinks of outright racism, and must be addressed immediately. We are Vermonters, after all. We are better than that, and our police forces should reflect the highest kind and quality of non-discriminatory character that we strive for in this state. (Yes, I am sticking my Vermonter nose upwards, with obvious pride for my home state.)
Another unknown thing is how the police behaved after Ms Linton was loaded into the ambulance, crying, and cradling her arm. When I asked to go with her, or to have another person close to her go with her in the ambulance (her own daughter, perhaps?), the police responded rudely, with a forceful, “No!” A crowd of released arrestees began to gather behind the parked ambulance, demanding that a person with close, personal ties to Ms. Linton, be allowed to ride in the ambulance with her. Suddenly, about a dozen other officers rushed out of the building, obviously prepared to engage with us in a perhaps not-so kindly manner.
Thanks to the quick thinking of Kate Kanelstein, another VWC organizer, who announced that she was being allowed to ride in the ambulance with Ms. Linton –after getting easy permission from the ambulance driver instead of the police– the crowd drew back. However, in some final angry verbal exchanges between police and protesters, one officer loudly proclaimed that “None of this would have happened if you’d just behaved yourselves and never showed up here in the first place.”
Uh, excuuuuuussse me?? Please tell me our police have, at the very least, a basic understanding of the US Constitution, and are aware of the fact that NVCD is one of the very highest forms of civic duty a citizen can, and should commit, to address, and change, the wrongs we see committed by our Government. And, ultimately, it is their duty to protect the citizens so that they may do so. (If they are not there to protect us, then what, really, are they for?)
For now, Ms. Linton, who was recently recognized as a “Women of the Year” in Glamour magazine, for being one of “50 Phenomenal Women of the Year Who Are Making a Difference”, is recovering, with her arm in a sling as a result of the injury inflicted on her. I have no doubt that she will continue her work, fighting for Justice and the Rights for all people, but especially for the people of Vermont, regardless of race, religion, orientation, ability or social status. She is just that kind of woman. She is just that kind of Human Being.
The media is most certainly likely to “spin” the story in various ways –undoubtedly, mostly negative–but I hope and pray that her efforts, as well as the efforts of the members and activists of the VT Workers’ Center, will meet with the successful end for which this action was intended: getting our legislature to have a public discussions on the different financial formulas that can, and will, support the implementation of Act 48, Health Care For All, starting in 2017.
And as for Ms. Linton herself, Vermonters should just be damn proud to claim a woman of her caliber –strong, outspoken, passionate, open-minded, intelligent, kind, and, oh ya, black— as one of our own. She is an amazing representative of Vermont’s tenacity, courage, and leadership in choosing to do what is best for all people, no matter how difficult the challenges. Personally, I am honored to call her “friend”.
John Walters’ article, by the way, concluded with what I felt was a sign of hope for the Act 48 activists of the Vermont Workers’ Center, and Shela Linton. It was with a quote from the Speaker of the House, Shep Smith, and with whose words I, too, shall conclude:
“I think this was an incredible example of the openness of our democracy,” he said. “In the people’s house, people are allowed to petition, and I would expect that over the coming weeks, we’ll talk with people about setting up hearings.” [emphasis added, mine]
Now I think I’ll go back to that blog, to read Part 2.
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