Our Speech at Primero de Mayo / May Day Car Rally for Essential Workers: Put People First

Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington sponsored the Primero de Mayo Car Rally along with 36 other organizations1. This event drew thousands of people who came together to show solidarity with essential workers and lift up workers’ demands in a time of crisis. A member of the BLM GB collective spoke and read a collective statement. 

Read on for our statement about people victimized by our criminal punishment system, problematic police power in this crisis, and a call for people to get involved, help your communities, and help create a new normal that is concerned with the survival and well-being of us all.

1Including Justicia Migrante, Burlington Tenants Union, Vermont Interfaith Action, 350 Vermont, Vermont Workers’ Center, Champlain Valley DSA, Rights & Democracy, Rural Vermont, Community Voices for Immigrant Rights, Rights & Democracy VT, Vermont State Labor Council, VT National Lawyers Guild, Peace and Justice Center
Watch the Speech: Here on Justicia Migrante’s Facebook Live – go to 1:36:11 in the stream.

We stand here outside CRCF on International Workers Day and we acknowledge all the people victimized by our criminal punishment system.

We see their humanity, and the crimes committed against them by our racist systems that prioritize capitalism over people. We see their rights being systematically ignored every day. 

We would be remiss if we didn’t address the health crisis before us. In order to address it, we must point to the series of crises that the police state has used to permanently erode civil rights and establish new, repressive methods of exploitation and profit.

This isn’t the first time the state has taken advantage of their governmental powers in a time of crisis to serve the interest of profit & not the well-being of the people they claim to represent. 9/11 was used as justification for the AUMF, the Authorization of Military Force, which brought about two forever wars, surveillance institutions that eroded the practical use of the fourth amendment, and the creation of DHS, the Department of Homeland Security. Hurricane Katrina was used to level low-income communities and replace them with wealthy private communities, and the recession of 2008 was exploited and used to consolidate wealth even further.

Over the last month, Vermont police have been granted emergency powers to fine and even dole out jail time to people for violating stay-at-home orders–punishments that they can enforce at their own discretion, with little-to-no oversight. COVID19 has been used as an excuse to deepen the state’s and the nation’s reliance on punishment and violence through police. 

Crises only make existing power structures worse, deepening pre-existing inequity.

Don’t forget: Our country and our state have prioritized military and police spending over housing, and continue to do so. In 2019, Burlington spent over 20% of its general fund on Policing. This is over 12 million dollars more than it spent on Housing, Community Development, and Community Justice combined.2

Don’t forget: Black people make up a little more than 1% of Vermont, but make up 8.5% of Vermont’s prison population.

Don’t forget: Black folks are homeless in Vermont 6x more than white folks.

Don’t forget: the purpose of our military and police is not to “liberate” people or make our community “safer.”

Our police have invented new crimes, expanding what it means to criminalize homeless people simply by criminalizing being outside. They have destroyed hand washing stations, disturbed mutual aid food distributions, and interfered with our ability to help each other. They have created new victims.

Don’t fool yourself, police will disproportionately apply punishments to people who look like trouble to cops. Who do you think that means in Vermont? The low wage person of color working long hours. The youth constantly harassed by the police, The homeless who have very few safe places to sleep, and those who are not physically or mentally able. 

Police and prisons exist to protect the profit and property of business, not the prosperity of our communities. Not to protect people or public safety — no time is this more evident than in a season where prisons and jails have had the highest rates of a deadly pandemic. Nearly 10,000 incarcerated people have tested positive across the country and the number of cases is doubling each week3. 38 inmates and 18 DCF workers have tested positive for the virus in Vermont4, with 150 tests pending results, and not counting our outsourced prisoners in Mississippi and numbers in ICE detention. According to the Marshall Project, the prison infection rate eclipses the spread among the general population by more than 150 percent3

Outside the prison walls, runaway economic catastrophe is showing us how many workers have been existing just steps away from this system, even before this specific crisis. 

The most vulnerable populations are finally getting some of  the government social support they’ve always deserved, because the nation and the state are seeing more people than ever need food, housing, and income– and the government can’t deny these needs any more. 

Before the onset of COVID-19 and now, poor folx, black and brown folks, folx with disabilities are the most likely to live paycheck to paycheck. What happens when the paychecks stop?  We are the most likely to be essential workers or to be without homes, without shelter, without food, without the means to survive and the support systems.We are facing an uncertain future and significant threat from the people who pretend to work to keep us safe.

We are more likely to be fined for violating stay at home orders.

And we are more likely to be put into prisons.

The criminal punishment system has always been dangerous to our humanity, to our  bodies, to our society, to our movement to create a liberated society. 

Don’t forget: This nation, this state, and their police, do not have some higher moral authority to commit violence — they are just given power by the government. We, the people, determine what is moral and what is right, and it’s been proven time & time again that we can’t trust state powers to make ethical decisions for us. 

We have an ask for those who are here, who hear this, who read this – we want you to get involved and help us help our community. The criminal punishment system won’t. The cops won’t.

Contribute to healing, housing, and food funds, while talking about the structures that make these funds necessary. Challenge local government priorities, responses, and budgets. Sign up to stand together. We can refuse to “go back to normal” and instead create a new normal — a normal that is concerned with the survival and well-being of every person in our community.

Our ask, of all of you today, is simple: trust your neighbors. Trust them to know what is best for themselves. Build relationships with them, however you can. We can, and we must, take care of ourselves and each other — and we can do it without police.

Article on Socialist Resurgence.com: A People’s Bailout: May Day in Burlington, Vermont https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/05/04/a-peoples-bailout-may-day-in-burlington-vermont/?fbclid=IwAR0udU61RH3nhhC3-GHyelyXKfMrm5i5JKlau9SnX4WY83KLdJnQ6kAWoBo