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Police Violence Precedes Governor’s Conference in Vermont

by William Boardman, published

New England governors and friends were on their way to a dinner party prior to a conference in Burlington, VT and found the way blocked by pedestrians and protesters. So they did what was only natural and called in the police, with police violence the predictable result.

Late Sunday afternoon, on July 29, four tour buses, carrying a reported 200 or so attendees at the conference of American governors and Canadian premiers were headed from their hotel to a fancy private dinner at tax-subsidized Shelburne Farms, were blocked from entering the hotel’s front entrance by 60-70 protestors, according to Burlington Police.

When the buses moved to a side entrance, they were again held up by a peaceful group of about 25 people standing with banners stretched across the driveway where, about 20 feet away, the bus full of diners was waiting to get out and taking pictures of the scene while they waited.

The banners read “Give Class War a Chance” and “Resist Expectations, Expect Resistance.” Over the next few minutes, as the protestors chanted, “The whole world is watching,” a line of eight riot-gear clad police with shields formed in front of the bus, with more police in reserve behind them, along with at least three dogs. At the same time a very relaxed officer, apparently in charge, bantered with one of the protestors at the front of the group within arm’s length.

The police asked the protestors to move, but they stood still. After a false start or two, the line of riot police walked forward, shields held up. It took less than two minutes for the police to clear a path for the bus through the almost unresisting demonstrators, who backed up slowly as police advanced, allowing three buses to proceed unmolested to the exclusive dinner party.

No one disputes that police violence also occurred during this event or after. The police say they were provoked. Protestors say they did not provoke anyone. No one has yet suggested police provocateurs. The video that has surfaced so far is inconclusive as to who started it. There is footage of police chasing protestors, but none of police being chased.

Media coverage has been sparse, with the most comprehensive coverage coming from Blurt, the Seven Days staff blog, which carries many still pictures, several videos, and links to the police report and other coverage.

The first report, in the Burlington Free Press, started with a misleading headline: “Peaceful protest turns violent in Burlington.” The body of the story, however, made clear that most if not all the violence came from police. Eyewitness accounts in the paper included Free Press photographer Elliott deBruyn’s account of a 23-year-old woman shot at point blank range with a rubber bullet.

A late night report on WCAX-TV showed police officers on the attack against protestors, not the other way around. The report also showed the earlier, peaceful crowd of about 500 people demonstrating against tar sands oil and creating a “human oil spill” in the street across from the conference site.

On Monday morning, Vermont Public Radio failed to report any of the police violence in its coverage of the day’s protests against the human and environmental costs of a new pipeline through Vermont or flooding of Native American lands by Hydro-Quebec. The radio reported that police “cleared a small number of the protestors” without mention the shootings with pepper balls or the use of pepper spray.

The Burlington Police Dept. had a press release on the day’s events ready by 9:30pm Sunday evening.  The report largely conformed to other accounts, except that the police say some protestors “began pushing back” and “others sat on the ground while at least two others laid down locking arms.” These are not visible on the available video. The police report said that one fleeing protestor dragged a police officer 20-30 feet.

The report confirmed that “two officers discharged defensive munitions including 8-10 pepper balls and a sting ball round (a defensive round used to deploy several small rubber “stingball pellets”) and others used pepper spray.

So far as is known, the people in the streets have had no direct contact with any of the dignitaries attending the conference, which concluded Monday.

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