A protest in Burlington against police brutality led to an extraordinary confrontation Saturday evening when an activist with a megaphone questioned the city's police chief about past allegations of officers' misconduct.
Harmony Edosomwan, who led a protest that drew a crowd of hundreds to Battery Park, stood in the bed of a pickup truck parked behind police headquarters at One North Avenue, which is next to the park. Demonstrators, like those in cities across the country, had turned out to protest police brutality after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Interim Burlington Police Chief Jennifer Morrison and Deputy Chief John Murad had come out in an apparent attempt to have a dialogue with protesters. Both of the top cops, like many of the protesters, wore face masks.
Morrison had previously released a statement condemning Floyd's death as "an atrocity." She added in her statement: "It is horrifying and a perversion of everything that American police are meant to do."
"Are you familiar with the person Jason Bellavance?" Edosomwan asked the chief, referring to a Burlington police sergeant who was disciplined for using excessive force after he pushed a man into a wall, knocking him unconscious. The incident was captured on video.
"I am," the chief replied.
Edosomwan demanded to know why he was still working for the department.
The chief stepped forward. "It’s not something that we’re going to solve tonight," she said. "We’re not going to have a public dialogue—"
Edosomwan brushed the answer aside. She further questioned the chief about Officer Cory Campbell, who had a violent encounter last year with a man outside the University of Vermont Medical Center hospital. That man, Douglas Kilburn, later died. Campbell was disciplined for using foul language, but police contended that his use of force against Kilburn had been justified.
The crowd generally jeered the police brass, and a couple of people stepped forward to air their own personal complaints. People held up signs with messages including "Fuck the police" and "Convict killer cops."
Edosomwan held up a clear gallon jug filled with a red liquid. She dumped it onto the pavement at the feet of the police leaders.
"Their blood is on your hands," she said, referring to people killed by cops.
The protesters soon departed to head back to the park.
Floyd's death in Minnesota has galvanized people nationwide. The 46-year-old black man died after a white police officer pinned him face down on the pavement for several minutes by kneeling on his neck. A bystander captured it all on camera.
"I can't breathe," Floyd protested on the video.
Four police officers have been fired, and the one who knelt on Floyd's neck, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Violence has flared in Minneapolis, and protests have sprung up in dozens of American cities, including New York, Atlanta, Boston and Oakland.
The Peace & Justice Center, which put out word about Burlington's protest on social media, urged demonstrators to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
Many did sit apart on the grass in the park while activists read poetry and spoke out against racism. But the crowd was simply too big to accommodate social distancing for everyone.
The protesters left the park and marched onto North Avenue but didn't go far past the police station. Officers diverted traffic onto nearby North Street. A few motorists were temporarily stuck as the crowd flooded the street.
After the confrontation, some protesters headed back to the park to hear more speakers. But a light rain began, and many left.