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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Protesters Decry Militarized Response To Civil Unrest

Protester holds photo of his son on Statehouse steps
John Dillon
Howard Jennings of Bristol says his son Trip has covered protests around the world as a photojournalist. He was shot in the face by federal agents while documenting protests in Portland.

A low-key rally in Montpelier Saturday drew protesters concerned about the federal government's militarized response to civil unrest around the country.

Joseph Gainza is a longtime peace activist from Marshfield who helped organize the event. He said ordinary people need to speak out against the use of federal law enforcement against protesters in Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C. andother cities.

“People are beginning to be aware that there is this rising authoritarianism, which is really moving toward a fascistic way of looking at government in this country,” he said. “And I think what today was intended to do was to bring back the voice of 'we the people,' who are the sovereigns here in this country, to recognize that we can't turn to leaders to turn back to a democratic way of life. We have to do it ourselves.”

Protestors on statehouse lawn
Credit John Dillon / VPR
Demonstrators stand on Aug. 1 on the Statehouse lawn in Montpelier, to show their support during an event held in protest of militarized responses to civil unrest across the country.

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Among the protesters was a Bristol man whose photojournalist son was shot in the face by federal forces while filming protests in Portland, Ore.

Howard Jennings carried a photo of his son, Trip Jennings, whose left eye was severely damaged by a projectile fired by officers.

More from VPR: Rally In Support Of Police Draws Counter-Protests For Racial Justice And Reform

“It's possible he's going to lose his left eye, and may end his career as a photojournalist, I'm not sure yet,” he said. “But it's a pretty insane situation where these federal agents are out there supposedly protecting the federal courthouse, but they shot my son and others two-and-a-half blocks from there. They weren't protecting the courthouse; they were taking over the streets of Portland.”

Sarah Franklin of Montpelier said people from all walks of life need to get involved in the movement.

“There are allies in the wings,” she said. “It is our job to activate them. Let us deactivate [Attorney General] Bill Barr and reactivate all of our friends, all of the people that we know who will work for peace and freedom in this whole globe.”

"There are allies in the wings. It is our job to activate them." - Sarah Franklin, Montpelier

Ed Stanak, a political activist from Barre, called for the Legislature and state Attorney General T.J. Donovan  to take steps to limit the power of federal police in Vermont.

Like other protesters, Stanak pointed to the Trump Administration's use of federal police and the national guard to suppress protests. He said the Legislature has the power to prevent that from happening here.

More from VPR: Burlington, Bennington Officials Respond To Demand For Policing Reform

“There are steps that states can take to limit federal jurisdiction criminally,” he said. “So the Legislature's coming back on August 25. They’re going to have all sorts of reasons why they should not do something. They can suspend rules if they want to. They should convene public hearings and take testimony on this.”

Stanak has written legislative committee chairs and Attorney General Donovan about the issueof limiting federal jurisdiction but has not yet heard back.

More from VPR: Activism, Reform In A Country Built On Racism: A Conversation With Vt. Racial Justice Leaders

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter John Dillon @VPRDillon

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John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
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