On April 19, the Waterbury Select Board announced that it hopes to enroll board members in racial equity training by early summer.
The board is looking into two training programs. One program, offered by the National League of Cities called Race Equity and Leadership (REAL), offers trainings specifically for municipal staff and elected officials. The other, offered by CRJ Consulting Group, is a general equity training program called Vermont Partnerships for Fairness and Diversity.
While some members of the public were thrilled to see Waterbury take action towards diversity training, others were deeply disappointed in the board’s lack of progress thus far. Specifically, Waterbury Area Anti-Racism Coalition (WAARC) member Maroni Minter was disheartened to see that board member Chris Viens was still serving on the board as vice chair, even after 460 people signed a petition calling for Viens’ resignation after he suggested that the Vermont State Police department respond to calls based on race.
“The last couple of weeks have been tough,” said Minter. “With all the shooting going on and watching the trial of the murder of George Floyd has brought back traumatic memories of 2020, including when Chris called for segregating the police as a solution to stop police killing of Black and Brown people.”
Minter pointed out that while Viens stepped down from his role as chair, he never resigned nor did he apologize for the harm he caused with his words. “In his statement, Chris didn’t recognize the harm done by promoting segregated law enforcement. Rather, he played the victim,” said Minter.
Moreover, Minter argued that the board as a whole is to blame for appointing Viens to vice chair rather than holding Viens accountable for his actions. “Without holding Chris accountable, you have voted to nominate him as a vice chair. It is a slap in the face to Black and Brown residents of our community. It is also slap in the face to the many people who voted for you. We are watching you and we will hold you all accountable. And unlike you, we will not be intimidated,” said Minter.
Viens interjected to justify why his segregated police force idea was not racist. “I meant to help by saying there could be a separate division of the police department where minority police officers go into minority communities to help defuse the problems and stop the killings, until we find a better solution. Instead, I was called a racist,” said Viens, who noted that, a month ago the Vermont State Police “hired its first Somalian, black police officer.”
“I was sitting on my couch drinking my morning coffee, watching the Channel 3 news when the interview came on. The first words that came out of that officer’s mouth were: ‘I’m going to be able to represent the people of my communities,’” said Viens. “I was way ahead of the 8 ball in proposing something like this to stop this crisis. I never took sides on any of this. All I tried to do was help.”
According to Viens, people had political motivation to call him racist as well. “One of our elected officials at the State House didn’t want to lose his seat. He blew it out of proportion,” said Viens.
Viens also turned the tables on the accusations of being offensive. “You always talk about being offended,” said Viens. “I don’t mean to offend you by saying this, but the word “training” offends me. How about ‘understanding’ instead.”
Finally, Viens argued that he was mislabeled by the WAARC. “I’m no more racist than anybody on this Zoom right now. I’ve got friends of color. People I grew up with, who are minorities. People who I love and respect. You people got me labeled wrong. I was ahead of the game on a lot of these things, but was called a racist because of it. No, I was a forward thinker. You guys want my ass out, just tell me. You can find somebody else to solve your problems.”