Courts & Corrections

Incidents raise questions about intolerance in idyllic Northeast Kingdom town

Sterling College
Sterling College hung a rainbow flag following a shooting at an Orlando gay night club. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger
CRAFTSBURY COMMON — A few days after a gunman killed 49 and injured scores more at an Orlando nightclub in June, a rainbow flag went up on one of the main buildings on the Sterling College campus.

The next morning, the building was egged.

Meanwhile, an American flag, flying at half-staff outside the president’s residence in recognition of the Orlando shooting, was found torn down and stomped on the ground.

The two acts of vandalism and several other incidents involving Black Lives Matter signs have caused a stir in this idyllic Northeast Kingdom community, which features a fenced common surrounded by 19th century, white clapboard houses and is home toSterling, a small, private environmental college.

Favor Ellis, dean of community at the college, said that the proposal to put up the flag was met with no opposition at a weekly community meeting of faculty, students and staff. “It was not even a discussion really,” Ellis said.

Sterling College
Members of the college community put up paper hearts in the spot where the building had been egged. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

“It shines a light on how important it is to hang the signs and support each other through all of our differences and all of our similarities,” Ellis said.

Christian Feuerstein, the director of communications at the college, posted about the events on Front Porch Forum, which sparked an outpouring of support from the community, she said.

“It not only affects the campus, but it affects the town,” she said.

Feuerstein said that the college contacted the Vermont State Police to report the vandalism, and police have been responsive.

“We are not removed from the world, we are part of the world, and unfortunately that means that some of the pushback that comes in on these issues are going to affect us here on campus,” Feuerstein said.

There have also been incidents involving Black Lives Matter signs in Craftsbury. Students, faculty and administration at Sterling put up a sign last spring near the main entrance of the college. Shortly after it was posted, it was stolen.

A more troubling incident occurred the day after Christmas. A Craftsbury resident was returning home from work in the evening when he found a 5-gallon bucket near his apartment containing a dog food bag stuffed with a bloodied, dead black cat. The bucket was left near a recently erected Black Lives Matter sign.

Sterling College
The college replaced a Black Lives Matter sign on the lawn after one was stolen. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

The couple who lived at the apartment called the Vermont State Police, but the issue was dropped. A few days later they came home to find the locks had been tampered with. They were rattled by the incidents and later moved. The couple asked that their names not be published for fear of retaliation.

“It’s too much of a coincidence that a dead black cat would be dumped on our lawn soon after putting up a Black Lives Matter sign,” the man said this week.

The incidents in Craftsbury, his partner said, are “subtle yet clear acts of intimidation.”

“I think that the climate around these issues in this town is built on silence,” she said. “It’s built on white people being silent together.”

Peggy Sapphire, a Craftsbury resident, said she is concerned there has not been a broader community response to address what she perceives to be a big problem.

“In the least expected part of Vermont, let alone the country, this little town has issues that are really quite large,” Sapphire said.

Paul Hodgdon, who owns a garage in Craftsbury and has lived in town for 52 years, said the Black Lives Matter signs are unnecessary. “The problem started as soon as the signs went up,” he said. “There were no problems before that.”

“I don’t think anybody in this town has an ill feeling toward anybody of any race,” Hodgdon said. “That’s why I don’t understand why (the signs) went up.”

Pablo Coddou, a Craftsbury resident, said the community is fairly progressive, but the incidents raise concerns about intolerance.

“Everyone in my close circle of friends is very conscious of diversity and the importance of having a community where that’s highlighted as a priority,” Coddou said.

But he added that under the surface “there definitely is some ignorance around diversity issues,” he said. “It’s white privilege to think that there’s no racism.”

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  • It’s not “the least expected part of Vermont”. Plenty of boneheads and racusts in these parts. Mr. Hodgdon perhaps unintentionally displays the mindset with his comment that “there were no problems….before the signs went up…” : Right, and there were no problems before them colored started sitting at the lunch counter and trying to move to the front of the bus.

    • scott jennings

      Would this even be a news worthy event if this was a Trump sign, an American flag stolen or desecrated, or any symbol the far left hate mongers disagree with? Obviously not. Those would be celebrated by the left and is an everyday occurrence. I hope they catch the person(s) responsible for this. I also hope and pray for more tolerance from those who make racist comments like “It’s white privilege to think that there is no racism”.

  • Judith Henault

    Thank You Sterling College for having the moral integrity and courage to take a stand.

  • Peggy W Larson, DVM MS JD

    I am not surprised. Racism is alive and well in Vermont; it is merely under the surface. I hope whomever brutally killed the little black cat is found and charged with cruelty to animals. Some sick people up there in Craftsbury.

    • Tom Sullivan

      “Some sick people up there in Craftsbury”

      Agreed. And the same could be said for those who gave you the thumbs down as well.

      • Neil Johnson

        Maybe the people of Craftsbury and their friends don’t consider Craftsbury residents “sick people”. We automatically fill in the reason why you got negative votes to support your position that everyone is racist in Craftsbury. We need to think a bit more with regard to what is printed, reported. While it might not be racist to label the people of Craftsbury sick, it certainly is stereo typing. We make the assumption the cat was killed by the perpetrators, they could have found it dead on the side of the road and used it. Can you see how people are jumping to conclusions? It’s not a whole lot different than what a racist person does……they make assumptions, not based upon a full set of information, but upon their own belief system.

        • James Mason

          “they could have found it dead on the side of the road and used it.”

          What did they use it for? What possible use could there be for putting a dead cat in front of someone’s house other than to intimidate or harass?

          • Neil Johnson

            The point being, perhaps they didn’t kill the cats, which some jumped to the conclusion they are cat killers too. What they used if for is a different issue. I’m unsuccessfully trying to point out that people jump to conclusions without all the facts and are in fact not much different than that those they are chastising. It succinctly well put by Gilbert below.

    • Michelle DaVia

      It’s very telling that the replies to this article that support diversity and tolerance have received so many thumbs down. I don’t think all of those thumbs down are from just Craftsbury.

      I think Pablo said it right, “It’s white privilege to think that there’s no racism.” That applies to more then Craftsbury.

      Where is the outrage at this racist and homophobic behavior? Silence is consent.

    • Deb Loring

      Hey Peggy – when this case came up I suggested they call you for a necropsy. Did anyone contact you?

  • “…this little town has issues that are really quite large.” Maybe.

    The “climate .. built on silence” rhetoric implies some shadowy conspiracy of locals; more probably it’s a single perp or family.

  • Mary Reed

    I hope that many more good people, like Ms. Sapphire and Mr. Coddou, will step forward and publicly announce that racism, homophobia, and other ignorant, hateful, intolerant, bullying ‘isms’ are not acceptable. I also hope that public safety authorities will take concerned note of these hate-based criminal activities. People who are so filled with fear, ignorance, hateful anger and intolerance that they steal, then deface and destroy, and then torture and kill animals, and get away with it, cannot be expected to be satisfied with those crimes the next time they select a target. People who act out their aggression and hate by terrorizing others often need to keep doing it ‘bigger and better’.

    We live in an age where violence bred from ignorance, fear, anger and intolerance is pandemic, well-publicized, and where starkly realistic electronic ‘games’ have very real power to energize and desensitize. Political figures have figured out how to successfully use all those dynamics to buy support and votes, and ultimately, power. In the process, they strengthen and spread the dynamics. This is not the time in history to suggest that people stepping forward to support groups targeted by haters are the problem, and it is not the time to ignore small acts of terror.

  • David Ellenbogen

    Wow! To say that “there were no problems … before the signs went up… ” just proves that there WERE problems, but they just weren’t obvious. Why not simply say ‘we have no issues with racism as long as nobody talks about it’?

    Kudos to Peggy Sapphire for being brave and speaking up about this. I hope others in Craftsbury are equally upset and willing to speak out. Silence = consent.

  • Neil Johnson

    Could this be the act of one person? Does this mean the whole northeast kingdom is racist? Does this mean Craftsbury is home of the KKK? Did the people mowing the lawn remove the sign because they didn’t have permission to put it on school grounds?

    We are making some huge leaps here, I certainly wouldn’t want to judge Craftsbury or the whole north east kingdom on these events. I’m thinking Craftsbury is probably a pretty nice town, a town without racism and hate, probably some pretty loving neighbors. I’m note sure why Vermont is all of a sudden getting a reputation of being hate filled, racist homophobes, I was thinking it was the exact opposite.

    • Michelle DaVia

      Neil – If it was only one person or one family or even just a “few”, then why were there dozens of thumbs down to the comments that support diversity and callout bigotry?
      You should heed Pablo’s comment, “It’s white privilege to think that there’s no racism.”

      Silence is consent.

      • Neil Johnson

        I’m asking a question. I’m looking for the truth, not how many thumbs up or down a comment gets. If this is the act of one person, clearly how can some one judge the entire north east.

        I’m not doubting there is racism, there is in every part of society. What I am questioning is the acts or what could be one person, defining an entire region. We are all racist to some degree, all of us, not to admit that is probably our biggest issue. The same goes for those whom are being discriminated against, we as a society don’t always play perfectly together. My bet is that most people of different race/ethnic backgrounds are treated better in Vermont than many other areas of the country. Vermont is not the bastion of racist hatred that this article try’s to imply.

        • Michelle DaVia

          Neil – All those thumbs down are statements of support for what maybe one person did by the region. A thumbs down to a statement of tolerance is in fact a thumbs up to the bigots.

          • Robert Joseph

            Or….maybe some don’t agree with the comments that the entire town of Craftsbury or the entire NEK is racist?

          • Michelle DaVia

            Robert – Not one comment has accused all of Craftsbury or the entire NEK of racism, but it would be nice if all of Craftsbury, and the NEK, and the US would express opposition to racism.

        • John Odum

          By jumping straight to hyperbole (“Does this mean Craftsbury is home of the KKK?”), you’re clearly not “looking for the truth,” but trying to force (crudely) those raising the concerns into a defensive posture so they back off from the topic and eventually drop it.

          When you re-frame it a matter of theres-no-real-problem vs. Vermont as a “bastion of racist hatred,” you are willfully short-circuiting actual discussion of a legitimate concern.

          • Neil Johnson

            Please read the title of the article. There is no factual evidence or remote patterns of activity supporting that would suggest a news article headline such as this.

            It is not I that is jumping to hyperbole. The title suggested the Northeast Kingdom is intolerant, from what is very likely an event done by one person. I’m calling it out, that’s all. My comments, even with the dramatization are more accurate and closer to what is being suggested by this article.

            It’s probably the act of some teenager that’s not well educated/frustrated, see we don’t know the facts, we don’t have any idea of intent. It could be someone struggling with their own sexuality, we just have no idea.

            Incidents raise questions about intolerance in idyllic Northeast Kingdom town…… I just can’t see how one could draw this conclusion from what happened, and it get’s worse as you read the article.

          • Andy Davis

            Neil, you just said in your previous post that you are “asking a question” and looking for the “truth”. That is exactly what the article is doing! Dead cats, eggs thrown at buildings – and now two months later, racial and homophobic slurs yelled at an individual – these are legitimate reasons to ask questions.

            Not one comment has accused the whole town, region or state of being anything. These events speak for themselves and they demand a response that questions be asked. Our nation should be far beyond this kind of behavior. People do this stuff – and it happens here in Brattleboro, too – because they believe that other people support this awful stuff. The belief that intolerant behavior will be tolerated is a form of perceived privilege, often done by those who believe they have a right to treat others this way.

  • Larry Kasden

    Have we forgotten the Irasburg Affair?

  • Lillian Fleer

    White privilege is being able to navigate the world without having to think about race. Paul Hodgdon’s comment clearly illustrates this privilege. I get it, Paul, it’s scary and uncomfortable to have to face the issues of racism in America. But people of color have to do that every day. That’s why it’s important for white people like you and me to step outside our comfortable, privileged zone and listen to people of color when they are telling us that things are bad for them. We can’t just plug our ears and then say nothing is wrong. That’s why the signs and flags are there. To remind people that there are problems. (And hopefully then act to fix these problems, but that’s a whole other topic about repealing laws that disproportionately affect people of color and maintain the power of white people, about holding police accountable for their actions, about the prison industrial complex, etc.)

  • Bruce S. Post

    A good thing to read:

    HIDIN’ OUT IN HONKY HEAVEN: ON RACE RELATIONS IN VERMONT by David Budbill

    http://www.davidbudbill.com/228/hidin-out-in-honky-heaven-on-race-relations-in-vermont

    • Diana Brown

      I remember the Irasburg Affair, as I was a teenager in Waterbury at the time.
      And yes Bruce, this piece by David Budbill is Really spot on .

  • Emma Keeshin

    This is great reporting. I grew up here in the Northeast Kingdom and this perfectly captures Vermonters’ (no matter how “progressive” they say they are) silent racism. This reality needs to be covered more. Please continue publishing stories like this one.

  • Hester L Fuller

    as a craftsbury resident and long-time friend to mr. Hodgdon, and (more recently) to ms. sapphire, & many folks at Sterling i take issue with the hasty and inaccurate characterizations of individuals here – i will not call you commenters “ignorant” because i think it will shut your minds to my wider point. I would suggest, though, that you may lack experience of these folks as actual people, as all of us lack experience of people whose lives we have not shared. it does not mean we are unsympathetic, or that we sanction acts of intolerance. we do not. they are rare here, and are quickly and appropriately repudiated. Still, you may call us “ignorant” of the forces that make you speak out in this way, if we are allowed to call you “ignorant” of the forces at play here that have given rise to an imperfect community that values tolerance and cooperation and “slow learning” about each other through shared experience, abiding commitment and assuming the best of each other rather than the worst. Actually, i think the word “ignorant” itself is not the right word, and serves to inflame intolerance rather than advance the principles we do share.

    • gilbert goodridge

      how can one say how tolerant and perfect they are and then hurl racist, bigoted, hatefull accusations at the townspeople…………………………?

  • Ward Heneveld

    Did Craftsbury participate in the Vermont Humanities Council’s program of public readings of Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech on the 4th of July? Everyone should check out this program on VHC’s website where you can find a copy of Douglass’s speech. http://www.vermonthumanities.org/programs/public-programs/reading-frederick-douglass/.

  • Christine Hallquist

    I do very much appreciate Vermont and our work to try to be fully accepting of all people. Clearly we are all trying. That said, this article and its message is very important. I do love Craftsbury Common and find that Sterling College is very open and accepting. While these issues are happening in Craftsbury; they could be happening in any town in Vermont.

    I have learned a lot in the past eight months since I have transitioned from “Dave” to Christine. I would not want to minimize my struggles and the work and the struggles of everyone around me. This was clearly hard for everyone. I am now on the “other side”, and am deeply aware of the incredible bias and bigotry that we live with. I was on a mission to live my own truth. As a white male, I was not aware of just how much institutional privilege exists for our dominant culture. It was something that existed somewhere else and with other people. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate the warmth and acceptance that I experience today. However, I have just become aware of the adult bullying that is part of our dominant white male culture. That bullying can be overt, however it is most often subtle and veiled.

    Now that I have transitioned, it was if I had the curtains drawn on a picture window. I now see a vista that I did not know even existed. It is a vista of incredible beauty that is only paper thin.

  • Ed Fisher

    Maybe one has to have “been around awhile ” to comprehend human nature ! Here’s the thing , There IS and HAS always been politically invented ,ideological divide in Vermont , in America , in the entire world . But not since the nineteen sixties has such a diverse and divided public consciousness been preyed upon by the media of political correctness , Nor has it been better accepted and romantically realized by a younger [and younger ]generation of people ! Our youth , put up the signs , our youth ,more than likely vandalized the sight ! -Revelation , the issue of romance racism and hatred more than likely begins and stays with the same listless mentality . Attention whores and the media follows suit .