Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has reversed course and will allow Tyeastia Green, the city’s director of racial equity, inclusion and belonging, to manage a planned assessment of the police department — and issued a frank apology about his own bias.
Weinberger had announced on Monday that he’d replaced Green, the only Black department head in the city, with Darren Springer, a white man who serves as general manager of the Burlington Electric Department, to oversee the study. The police assessment has been planned since last summer, when the City Council voted to reduce the size of the department by 30 percent amid a racial justice movement inspired by allegations that officers had used excessive force during arrests.
The mayor told members of the Police Commission and City Council in an email that he’d replaced Green to insert an “independent department head who has been neutral and separate from the contentious debates in recent months over proper officer staffing levels.”
The backlash was swift, beginning with a meeting Monday of police commissioners and city councilors, at which Weinberger was grilled about the move. It continued into Wednesday, when VTDigger.org published a commentary by Sen. Kesha Ram (D-Chittenden), the first woman of color to serve in the Vermont Senate.
“By questioning the neutrality of his only Black department head — and quite possibly the only Black department head in Burlington history — because of her lived experience, Weinberger has done more damage to Vermonters who identify as Black, Indigenous, and people of color and anti-racist efforts in Vermont than he may understand,” she wrote. Ram served on Weinberger's transition team in 2012.
Weinberger apparently got the message. In a lengthy statement later Wednesday, the mayor acknowledged that he’d “made a mistake.”
The decision to replace Green “was wrong and reveals my own bias, and I must work transparently to address that,” he wrote. “Specifically, I see now that my focusing with this decision on achieving ‘neutrality’ in the way that the process was managed was wrong and reflected the wrong priorities.”
Weinberger hired Green last year to helm the newly created Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Office, a hiring the mayor described as among his “proudest moments” during his nine-year tenure. She started in April 2020.
Weinberger said he’d spoken to Green on Tuesday night, and she’d agreed when he asked her to resume managing the assessment.
“My initial decision is, again, one that I own, and I am working to reconcile and repair the harm that it caused,” Weinberger wrote. “I am committed to doing that and bringing our entire community to a place where we can come together on policy for public safety and public health that serves and protects everyone.”
Weinberger also acknowledged the anger his decision had provoked.
“I always welcome engagement and feedback, and I hope that you will see my actions today as a sign that I am listening, that I am willing to admit when I have gotten it wrong, and that I will seek to make it right,” he wrote.