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Letter to Hartford Selectboard, Committee on Racial Inequality, and Matt Hongoltz-Hetling

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On October 17th, 2017, in the Town of Hartford, Vermont, the Hartford Committee on Racial Inequality (HCORI) met with Hartford Police Chief Phil Kasten. During this meeting, Kasten made comments that implied there is no racism in the police department. The then chairwoman of the committee, a Black feminist and environmental justice activist, interrupted him and underscored the importance of acknowledging the ways structural racism and implicit bias have socialized white people to be racist.

This analysis - widely accepted and documented by people who produce and engage with knowledge about racism and white supremacy - was received with scorn, defensiveness, and calls for the chairwoman of the committee to step down from her position. Select board members Mike Morris, Dennis Brown and Sandra Mariotti, along with Lanny Collins and HCORI member Dan Hillard made public statements to the Valley News implying that the chairwoman’s response to the Police Chief was racist and chastised her for targeting white people and hurting their feelings with the analysis she shared. These responses to her statement - at the HCORI meeting, in the “press” if you could call such an invective journalism, and in social media - only further proved her point.

It is hard to determine which, between the Committee’s responses to this racial and environmental justice organizer’s analysis of white supremacy, and Matt Hongoltz-Hetling’s article about “hard feelings,” published on November 12, 017, is most dangerous.

It is unacceptable:

1. that a meeting meant to address “race issues in the police force” came to revolve around white people’s hurt feelings about their own participation in racism;

2. that said meeting quickly devolved into desperate and aggressive attempts at maintaining white innocence through patronizing and ageist forms of denial.

3. that a journalistic article, instead of focusing on racism and the committee’s resolve in avoiding to acknowledge, let alone dismantle white supremacy, chose to mount a case against this organizer by quoting a series of statements, each more ludicrous than the other.

4. that the story Hongoltz-Hetling reported, was not about the Committee’s aggressive attempts to define racism and restrict the terms of the discussion within a frame that absolves them (and the police).

5. that the article contributed to policing the then chairwoman of the committee’s words, questioning her analysis, ignoring the research and evidence that supports it, and putting her on trial for telling uncomfortable truths about whiteness and white people.

6. that Selectboard members and members of the Hartford Committee on Racial Inequality have constituted themselves as critical mass white people hurt by a term being accurately defined in order to attack and silence our most woke and luminous racial and environmental justice advocate more definitively.

This committee was established with this organizer’s leadership to combat racism in the town of Hartford. It seems our community has also forgotten that the racist email Selectboard member Mike Morris sent, which resulted the creation of the Committee on Racial Inequality, passed with no consequence and a plethora of support. In turn, this racial and environmental justice organizer has constantly been demonized for speaking truth about white supremacy. White liberal Vermont constantly boasts about how progressive it is, and in doing so, refuses to acknowledge and reckon with racism within our communities when it suddenly becomes personal.

1. We demand first of all that the members Committee on Racial Inequality do the work to understand and publicly recognize the ways in which all white people participate, to some degree, in racism.

2. The Committee on Racial Inequity are members of the community hand selected by the all-white Hartford selectboard. We further suggest the Hartford selectboard re-evaluate their selection process and re-evaluate the goal and the structure of the committee in question.

3. Lastly, we demand a public apology from Mike Morris, Dennis Brown, Sandra Mariotti, Dan Hillard, and Valley News reporter Matt Hongoltz-Hetling.

Sharonna Henderson
Nathalie Batraville
Celina de Sá
Jabari Saeed Jones
Randee Eddins
Robyn-Brooke Smith
Heather King
Mikala A. Williams
Rajnii Eddins

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