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Vermont Officials Play Marx Brothers in Wake of Police Violence

by William Boardman, published

Like the line attributed to Groucho Marx, several Vermont officials are denying reports of police violence at a protest by telling the public in effect: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” Yet all reports and videos show that police violence started after (not before) the road had been cleared and busses of dignitaries had been let through.

Video and still photographs show a consistent pattern of passive resistance by about 25 protesters blocking a driveway where busses full of New England governors and others were waiting to go to a fancy dinner at a nearby museum.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, who did not witness the event, issued a statement asserting that: “The police took extensive steps to clear a safe path for the busses without conflict….”

Video of the event that is available so far does not show what can be reasonably characterized as “extensive steps” to deal with the protesters’ passive resistance in a similarly peaceful manner.   One video shows a very relaxed, almost friendly face-off, with one officer bantering with a protestor, which the riot police line forms in front of a Premier Coach bus about 20 feet away.  Less than five minutes go by before the riot police move forward and easily push the protestors out of the way – this takes less than 30 seconds.  Only after the path is clear and the busses are moving do the police start using violence.

Another video, shot from almost the opposite angle, shows a police officer mingling at the edge of the group of protestors. He rushed forward into the group at the same time that the riot police phalanx starts pushing the group back.  It is not clear why he does this, but it is consistent with a deliberate police provocation that would allow them to say, as they have, that the protestors pushed back.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, at a news conference the following day, said that police “did a great job.”  Shumlin, who was not a witness to the event, admitted he had not seen any of the video, but said he had spoken to the Mayor Weinberger, who also was not a witness to the event.

The Burlington Free Press also reported on an interview with Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling, who said he had watched the event from the far side of the wide intersection but has yet to be identified in the video or photographic record.

Schirling is quoted as saying that the protestors escalated the confrontation by struggling with officers.  The video shows the protestors giving away quickly when the riot police move forward. Yet there is no video of protestors struggling with officers that has surfaced yet.

Schirling said that was “when the crowd gets more flamboyant and starts grabbing officers, grabbing people we’re trying to take into custody.”  The video shows mostly officers and protestors doing little or nothing as the busses leave, with some officers chasing and shooting pepper ball pellets at fleeing protestors.  Schirling said that took place when the officers were trying to clear the driveway.  The video clearly shows that the police violence started only after the busses were already leaving unimpeded.

Video and still pictures show that the 25 or so protestors blocking the driveway were slightly outnumbered by riot police and other police personnel.

As Groucho Marx also allegedly said, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

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