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06/18/20 Responses to the death of George Floyd

In response to the call for justice for George Floyd, the Vermont Bar Association Board issued the following statement.  They addressed ways in which attorneys can assist in addressing this terrible tragedy and the many similar incidents in our country.  We were urged to work for crucial changes to the justice system and also for change within ourselves individually.  Until we are all willing to address the systemic racism that props up the majority position in the U.S., we will not see the end of these unnecessary deaths.

We encourage any of our clients to let us know how we can help in these troubled times, both through legal consultation and community action.  400 years of racism will not disappear overnight; it will take all of us to make it happen.

VBA Board Approves Statement Regarding George Floyd

The Vermont Bar Association condemns the brutal homicide of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis. The manner of Mr. Floyd’s death, captured on video, violated his humanity and represents something more than an isolated act of police brutality: it represents the ongoing injustice of racism. Mr. Floyd’s death inflicted a trauma upon our communities, particularly the community of color, that we all must acknowledge and heal. Black Lives Matter, and we must all commit to act to dismantle the bricks of systemic racism and to ensure that our laws are applied equitably. We need to deepen our listening to the community of color, to be open to change, and to respond to bias and racial injustice.

The VBA encourages its members to contribute their time and resources to organizations focused on correcting the wrongs of institutional bias. The Vermont Bar Foundation’s “Access to Justice” campaign is one of many organizations working to ensure justice is served in our system of law. Additionally, in the wake of our ongoing pandemic, the VBA, Legal Services Vermont, and Vermont Legal Aid created a form through which our members can more easily offer to provide pro bono, low bono, or low-cost referral services, which the community of color and other marginalized groups disproportionately require as a symptom of institutional bias.

Our organization also recognizes the need to further explore bias within our own profession. As of July 1, the Vermont Supreme Court is requiring all Vermont attorneys to attend annual continuing legal education (“CLE”) programs on diversity and inclusion. In furtherance of the VBA’s mission statement to support “equal access to a fair and effective system of justice,” our organization will continue to offer and expand upon legal education exploring racial bias, gender bias, mental health/disability bias, and other forms of bias, to raise self-awareness and explore how we can resist acting on our implicit biases.  

Earlier this year, the VBA hosted its annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. poster and essay contest, and called upon Vermont’s youth to consider this quote from Dr. King: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” This past week has demonstrated the extent to which this quote remains relevant to our times. Our statement as an organization is merely a beginning to a much larger effort necessary to ensure the “presence of justice,” not only in dealings with law enforcement and in our courts, but also in our places of work and communities at-large.

We offer our deepest condolences to Mr. Floyd’s family and friends. Black Lives Matter and, to the community of color, we say that we see you, we hear you, and we will continue our work toward creating a fair system of justice. 

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