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Burlington Protestors Take On Race Discrimination, Ferguson

Taylor Dobbs
More than 100 protestors, some holding signs, voiced their disappointment Tuesday evening with a grand jury's verdict this week in the August shooting death of Michael Brown.

Amy Burell-Cormier says she was pulled over six times in three months, but not because of her driving.

“The third time, the officer asked ‘Do you know why I’m pulling you over?’” she remembers. “I said yes, he said ‘Why?’ I said ‘Because I’m black driving down the road in Vermont,’ and he was horrified.”

The officer’s reason, she says, is that she was speeding – 27 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone.

For Burell-Cormier, police discriminating based on race isn’t just a problem in Ferguson, Missouri, where protests erupted this week after a grand jury decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Michael Brown – an unarmed black teen – in August.

Burell-Cormier was one of more than 100 protestors that marched down Church Street in Burlington Tuesday evening, frustrated with the grand jury’s decision and with the state of race relations in the United States.

At the “speak out” event, dozens of Vermonters gave speeches through a bullhorn. Rajnii Eddins shared a poem, but in it he recognized the words could only go so far.

If poems could march in the streets
Overturn verdicts
Bring corrupt police to justice
If they could bring a boy back his life and a mother back her son
A father back his boy
Return bullets to a gun
Unloop the lynch rope
And unravel the knots from choked throats,
We would not be choking on tears.

The group made their way down a chilly Church Street Tuesday evening to chants like “Hey hey, ho ho/racist cops have got to go,” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”

The six times she was pulled over was frustrating, she said - it was the type of profiling she told her teenage son about.

They regrouped at City Hall, where Burell-Cormier and others shared their stories.

The six times she was pulled over was frustrating, she said – it was the type of profiling she told her teenage son about.

“I’m the one that sits down and has the conversations that tell him how to behave in public,” she said. Her husband is white, and Burell-Cormier calls herself the “voice of blackness” in her household.

“This is not something that I do, it’s something that black families do and black families have done, otherwise there would be no black males,” she said.

She said her son fought her in these conversations.

“’I live in Vermont, mom. People here don’t feel that way. It doesn’t happen here in Vermont, mom, come on you’re being paranoid, you’re being – you’re bringing the racism here,’” she remembers him saying. “No I’m not, and that is the thing that I would love to be wrong about.”

Her son stopped arguing so much on that point, Burell-Cormier said, at age 14, when police stopped him as he jogged home in the family’s Shelburne neighborhood.

“He came home and he said, ‘Mom, what you said was going to happen happened.’”

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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