Gov. Scott establishes racial equity task force

Gov. Phil Scott signed an executive order Monday to form a Racial Equity Task Force as a component of a broader state effort to promote racial, ethnic and cultural equity, including in its response to COVID-19.

The order comes in the wake of a police killing of a black man last week in Minneapolis and subsequent citizen demonstrations against police brutality.

“We cannot continue to treat racism and examples like the one in Minneapolis as uncomfortable and rare events, which is why we’ve been working on a Racial Equity Task Force in recent months,” Scott said in a press release. “A task force is not the cure-all for what ails us. It is going to take some soul searching and real change — individually and systemically — to make a difference.”

The Task Force will undertake three primary projects:

— Evaluating structures of support for racially diverse populations, including a focus on the racial disparities in health outcomes highlighted by COVID-19;

— Reviewing current state and federal law on hate speech and freedom of speech and considering changes to state law to clarify the path for prosecuting harassment, hate speech and other bias-motivated crimes; and

— Studying and presenting options to encourage Vermonters from diverse, marginalized or underrepresented racial and ethnic groups to run and serve in public office at all levels.

“This task force will contribute to advancing equity in Vermont, and yet it is only one piece of that effort,” said Executive Director of Racial Equity Xusana Davis, who will chair the task force. “The group will shine further light on existing disparities, but it is up to individuals, institutions and local and state government to make it happen. This is such important work, and it is everyone’s work.” 

The task force will include up to seven additional members, including representatives from the governor’s office, law enforcement, a Vermont chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, the Vermont Human Rights Commission and a member of the public.