Update, 6 p.m. July 17: At a July 17 press conference, Governor Shumlin was asked by a reporter if the more than 800 signatures on the petition, including one from a former governor, had swayed his position on the idea of a moratorium, to which he said "No."
Former governor Madeline Kunin and more than 800 others have signed onto an activist’s petition asking Gov. Peter Shumlin to immediately place a moratorium on Taser use by Vermont law enforcement officers.
The call for a moratorium came a week after the death of Macadam Mason, 39, of Thetford, who witnesses say died on the spot when he was Tasered by Senior Trooper David Shaffer of the Vermont State Police. Citizen activists, the Mental Health Law Project and the Vermont ACLU all signed on to a call for the governor to strip police of their Tasers until the state’s policies and procedures could be reviewed and updated as necessary.
The petition, hosted online by SignOn.org, a subsidiary of MoveOn.org, was created by Morgan Brown, a citizen mental health advocate in Montpelier, after what Brown said was an unsatisfactory response from Shumlin.
"The governor basically made it clear what his position was,” Brown said. “He made his statements … and all we could do was respond, and what would have been better is … to really talk to some of the stakeholders and the different people who try to see this addressed and have a very meaningful dialogue.”
The same day advocates called for a moratorium, Shumlin held a press conference where he defended the use of Tasers by law enforcement.
"I don't support a moratorium,” Shumlin said. “What I do support is as much involvement as we can get to ensure that we have policies in place with law enforcement and with the Vermont community that are sensible, compassionate and solve the challenges that we have together.”
But Brown said the governor isn’t open to a conversation, which is why he put together the petition.
"I remember sitting in the press conference, for example, and it's disappointing, you know, because what really should be happening is there should be a discussion with certain parties. The administration might say, 'Well, why haven't they talked to us?'” Brown said.
The petition gathered signatures slowly at first, despite Brown’s outreach efforts, but then MoveOn.org got in on the action. Brown said MoveOn.org, the liberal activism website, sent the petition to all of its email subscribers in Vermont, and it gathered a lot of momentum.
Brown said that while MoveOn.org’s action gave a boost, social media outreach has played a key role as well.
"It wasn't just them helping out. There's others. There's people who've been signing the petition and mentioning it on Facebook … and Tweeting," Brown said.
Brown mentioned Shay Totten, the former Seven Days political reporter who now works as the communications director of Chelsea Green Publishing, was a big help when he tweeted to his more than 3,000 followers.
"He's one of those people that, when he tweets something, depending on what it is, people take note,” Brown said.
At press time, the petition had 859 signatures.