Hundreds of protesters — bundled in winter clothing amid heaps of plowed snow and trees strung with Christmas lights — gathered outside Burlington City Hall on Friday evening for a Black Lives Matter candlelight vigil.
The event came a day before larger demonstrations were planned across the country — from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to New York City — to protest police brutality and the recent killings of unarmed black men, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City.
Vicki Garrison, the event’s organizer, read names of those who she said have been “lynched by our justice system,” following each name with, “We love you.” Those gathered then stood in silence, candles held in gloves and mittens. Protesters held aloft signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” “White Silence Is Violence” and “I Can’t Breathe.”
Speakers trudged up city hall’s steps to use a megaphone to address the crowd, telling of personal struggles with racism in Vermont and elsewhere, and reflecting on issues of race, education and the legal system in America today.
One speaker, an American history teacher living in Vermont for more than 25 years, urged parents to “teach your children the truth of history … Teach your children how to care for people.”
Another said that, while the police have been “awesome” to him in Vermont, “there are instances, as a black male living in this country, you fear for your life.”
Between speakers, the crowd joined in chants:
“Get up, get down, do this for Michael Brown!”
“Hey hey, ho ho, white privilege has got to go!”
“One , two, three. Stop police brutality!”
Lots of laughs followed one speaker’s assessment of the crowd: “I don’t see black or white; y’all look peach to me!”
A Facebook event listing for the demonstration read, “This is a peaceful demonstration, and we will not engage with hecklers,” but none were to be found. Enthusiastic cheers followed each speaker.
After almost an hour and a half in the cold, Garrison thanked the crowd for braving the weather, and invited everyone to attend a "die-in" at Saint Michael’s College on Sunday.