Local, state and federal officials want to know how they can better respond to hate crimes, bias and discrimination.
Key leaders plan to gather in Bennington on Wednesday evening to hear what members of the public have to say. The event will be the second “Hate-Free Vermont Forum” co-organized by the Vermont U.S. Attorney’s Office, Vermont Attorney General’s Office and Rutland Area NAACP.
A similar forum was held in Rutland City in July, and another is being organized in northern Vermont before the end of the year.
The forum aims to facilitate some difficult conversations that would “reduce animus, discord and misunderstandings,” said Etan Nasreddin-Longo, co-director of the Vermont State Police fair and impartial policing committee.
The Vermont Attorney General’s Office serves as the state’s clearinghouse for reports of bias incidents, discrimination and suspected hate crimes. Through the Hate-Free forum series, the office hopes to identify existing gaps in the state’s response system.
“What aren’t we doing that we should be doing?” said Assistant Attorney General Julio Thompson, director of the office’s civil rights unit. “What are we doing that you think we can do better? And what are we doing that you think is not working at all?”
Officials expected to attend in person include Vermont Attorney General Susanne Young, U.S. Attorney for Vermont Nikolas Kerest, Rutland Area NAACP President Mia Schultz and Vermont Human Rights Commission Executive Director Bor Yang. Tabitha Moore, the former president of the Rutland Area NAACP, is set to moderate the event with Nasreddin-Longo.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said speakers will discuss how the law can help complainants with difficulties they encounter, such as protecting their civil rights. Speakers will also answer questions from participants, who can attend in person or tune in remotely.
Although the attorney general’s office largely works within the court system, Thompson said many reported incidents can’t be litigated for a variety of reasons. Some cases may involve speech that is protected by the First Amendment, for example. His office would like to hear ideas on how these types of conflicts can be resolved; restorative justice programs are currently an option.
“People are still hurt or scared,” Thompson said. “Is there something we can do to acknowledge the harm and address this, so that hopefully it won’t happen again?”
Wednesday’s event will be held at the cafeteria of Bennington’s Mount Anthony Union High School, located at 301 Park St. It will run from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
People can register to attend in person or online through the Rutland NAACP site.
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