Have skill, will paint?

The South Burlington City Council is interested in supporting a community effort to paint a “Black Lives Matter” mural on a city street – if a group comes forward to make the project happen.

The Aug. 5 discussion began when councilors took up a public request from resident Sandy Dooley to declare racism a public health emergency.

“The CDC would really like the president to do this, but that’s unlikely,” Dooley said. “But there is a lot of research that racism contributes tremendously in a negative way towards the public health status of society.”

Last month, officials in neighboring Burlington declared racism a public health crisis and committed to taking specific action to address it within the city and its organizations.

Councilor Meaghan Emery asked Dooley what an action declaring a public health emergency would lead to. Dooley answered that it would show recognition of the issue and that it might, at times, guide policy.

Council Chair Helen Riehle said drafting resolutions for issues that are important to the community can express both concern and support.

“I don’t want to do something that will just make us feel good. I would rather walk the walk. So if this talking can help us step forward, that’s a better use of our time,” Emery said.

Councilor Thomas Chittenden suggested the city might look at its committee structure and possibly broaden its scope to address systemic racism and make the community more diverse.

“I agree with you, Meaghan, we don’t want to just do something so we can sleep easier at night. We want to be committed to actual action on this,” he said.

Work in progress

The South Burlington Police Department recently had a viewing of the documentary “13th” facilitated by an outside expert, and has had training sessions over the last year, according to City Manager Kevin Dorn. Other city employees have not had that kind of training in recent months.

Another community request that was discussed was painting a “Black Lives Matter” mural on a city road.

Dorn said he didn’t want to dissuade the council but cautioned that other groups might come forward with requests to paint different messages.

The community has rallied around a Black Lives Matter poster at the Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School, Emery said. Every other Wednesday, students and community members congregate there to hold a peaceful gathering.

“I want us to be very thoughtful and very deliberate in how we move. I think we as a community should really recognize what the middle school did, and how the community has galvanized around that banner,” Emery said.

In the end, the council concluded that any potential Black Lives Matter mural project should come from the community. No official action was taken. Reached by phone on Tuesday, Aug. 4, Riehle said that interested residents might consider starting by calling the Students Organizing Against Racism leaders who have helped organize the peaceful gatherings at the middle school.

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