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Rally In Support Of Police Draws Counter-Protests For Racial Justice And Reform

A crowd of people in front of building with signs and flags
Liam Elder-Connors
A rally organized to show support for Vermont police also drew a group of protesters calling for police reform and racial justice, who tried to drown out speakers. The event continued with both groups crowding onto the steps of the statehouse.

Protesters demanding racial justice and an overhaul to policing interrupted a rally organized on Saturday to show solidary with Vermont police officers.

The 'Rally to Support Vermont Law Enforcement’ comes after a number of protests in Vermont against racial injustice and police brutality. Those protests, as well as ones across the nation, were sparked after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, a Black man, died after an officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.

Jim Sexton, who organized Saturday’s event, kicked off the rally in Montpelier in front of the Statehouse.

“It’s our turn to have our voices heard and show police there are people that care about them,” Sexton said.

More from VPR: Thousands Protest Police Violence, Racism, At Rallies Across Vermont

The event began with speakers telling stories about positive interactions with police and praising them for their work.

Michael Hall, a former police officer and the executive director of the Vermont Police Coalition, said the majority of police in the state don’t condone problematic behavior by other officers.

“I can tell you that in my 36-year career, I probably ran across three or four that I can think of,” Hall said. “The system can take care of itself.”

But about 15 minutes into the program, a group of counter-protesters began chanting “Black Lives Matter” and marched to the front. The group held signs with slogans like “end police brutality” and “abolish the police.”

Attendees of the law enforcement rally then moved up as well, staking out places in front of the sound system and standing next to the counter-protesters, who continued to chant.

Sexton, who organized the police rally, ploughed forward and brought up more speakers while supporters cheered "U.S.A" and waved American flags. But as the chants of "Black Lives Matter" showed no sign of stopping, Sexton asked attending media to stop paying attention to the counter-protesters.

“We have these grounds, I have all the approvals and I have all the backing,” he said. “That means that this is our day and they can have their day anytime they want, anywhere they want — not here, right now. So please stop. If you’re covering them, please just shut them down.”

For about another hour the rally continued, with speakers praising police while the counter-protesters chanted over each story.

William Dunkley, one of the counter-protesters, said they were there to provide a counter-narrative.

“I think it’s a really ill-timed and tone deaf time to get together and support law-enforcement,” Dunkley said. “Many of us here want to abolish the police and in the meantime make significant changes so people of color, Black people and brown people especially, stop getting killed by the police.”

The rally ended with a cacophonous rendition of “God Bless America,” sung by the attendees of the law enforcement rally, interspersed with the chants of “Black Lives Matter” from the counter-protesters.

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