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Still I rise: Black Lives Matter flag raised at RHS

After a year compiling presentations, building community support and submitting proposals to the School Board, the day had finally arrived: the Black Lives Matter flag flew Friday from the Rutland High School flag pole.

“We are here on April 12 marking the 158th anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. Civil War, which was started when Southern soldiers fired on the U.S. garrison at Fort Sumter in South Carolina,” said student Alex White at the opening of the private ceremony for students and staff Friday. “We are here to raise the Black Lives Matter flag, which will fly for 400 days ... because this year marks the 400th anniversary of the start of the British slave trade in the Americas.”

Members of the New Neighbors Club at RHS, which requested the flag be raised, addressed the crowd, introducing the “peaceful, nonviolent” Black Lives Matter movement and the Black Lives Matter Vermont group. The School Board voted March 26 to raise the flag, reaffirming that decision Tuesday.

“Author James Baldwin said, ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced,’” Alex White read.

The group read statistics about the history of discrimination and violence against people of color that left an indelible mark on society through today.

“I want to recognize the significance of youth stepping up in order to provide support, voice their needs, represent their rights and stay true to their beliefs in the face of contentious and challenging times,” said Alderwoman Lisa Ryan. “You are all the pioneers and have created not only a foundation for those who come after you, but a message. A message that says empowerment, and leadership create opportunities.”

The group and their classmates led the audience of over 100, many of whom donned T-shirts with the words “Black Lives Matter” on them, outside to the parking lot of RHS, where they unfolded the newest addition to the school’s flagpole.

Rutland City Police Cmdr. Matt Prouty said police were informed that a protest planned to take place at the same time as the flag-raising will be held at different date.

“We’re going to take 10 seconds to reflect on the meaning of what we’re doing right now and what it means to people of color in this school, in this city, in this community,” said Jennie Gartner, history teacher and faculty adviser for New Neighbors. “And for the 400 years of exploitation and slavery that have been (experienced) by people of color.”

Many attendees bowed their heads in silence as the large black-and-white banner with the stark and unmistakable words “Black Lives Matter” printed in bold danced in the breeze.

“Black Lives Matter is such a simple phrase that embodies such a complex, painful and hopeful reality that resonates with black Americans everywhere,” said Rutland NAACP President Tabitha Pohl-Moore in an interview later Friday.

“The purpose of BLM is to call for visibility and accountability for government-sanctioned (and in some cases, encouraged) violence toward black people. People who are comfortable with the systems of white supremacy want to make it about anything other than the fight for black lives — from creating bizarre counter groups ... to flat-out pretending racism isn’t a thing,” she continued.

Alex White carefully drew down the line upon which the American flag and the Vermont state flag flew. White and Evans hooked the rings of the new banner onto the line just below the state flag, while Noah White held the line in place.

Flag secured, White hoisted the now three banners back up the flag pole amid cheering and applause from the students below.

“This means that people are having conversations, and our kids are leading the discourse,” Superintendent Adam Taylor said in an interview later Friday. “This says a lot for student voice.”

Taylor commended the small group of students who held a flag representing Blue Lives Matter, a group urging that the killing of police officers be processed as a hate-crime, who stood toward the back of the crowd.

“It’s just as important,” Taylor said. “We all need to get to know folks and respect people ... that will help make this a better place, (and) it’s already an excellent place.”

Gartner said when she heard about an online community calling for a counter-protest, she reached out to the organizers and invited them to speak about what that group is and what they stand for, but received no response.

“I think the community of Rutland believe that lives matter, and black lives are a part of that,” Taylor said, who is black. “I moved here because there’s something magical about Rutland. The student voice is an example of that.”

Gartner said watching her students find their voice and stand for what they believe in and fight for their cause was a remarkable journey to watch, but is only the beginning of changing the culture in Rutland.

“I hope as a community this starts a conversation, and we’re able to talk to each other,” Gartner said. “I think people think because we had a president of color, racism is over ... Every day my students walk out into the community as people of color, that’s so far beyond anything I could ever comprehend ... (This) took a lot of bravery, on their part.”

“That there are enough students and that white Vermonters are finally, collectively in the beginning stages of acknowledging the reality of the black experience through symbolic action is healing, and gives me hope,” Pohl-Moore said.


Fairgrounds and 4-H plan horse facility upgrades

Horses are going to be central to this year’s Vermont State Fair.

The Rutland County Agricultural Society and 4-H are collaborating on a plan to move 4-H horse events from the southern end of the fairgrounds closer to the middle, renovating the old racing barn and building a new arena inside the fairgrounds’ main oval.

“You’ll be able to see all the activity going on from Route 7,” organizer Andrea Hathaway-Miglorie said.

Hathaway-Miglorie said volunteers will begin gutting the horse barn this weekend, and the project is expected to be complete by the end of the summer. Funds are still being raised for the project — sponsors can buy a plaque in one of the new stalls — but Hathaway-Miglorie said organizers are not sure exactly how much needs to be raised.

“We’re still getting estimates for materials, and we’re not going to have complete materials estimates for the barn until we gut it,” she said. “We just found out Monday night the plan we had for 10-by-10 stalls is going to be more expensive than stalls the same size.”

Hathaway-Miglorie said she expects that without in-kind contributions the project would be in the neighborhood of $150,000. Fortunately, she said, contractors are lining up to help out, including five excavating companies donating time and equipment.

“They’re all related to 4-H somehow,” she said.

Fair association President Robert Congdon said there are long-term plans to make the current 4-H area more usable.

“It may sit idle a couple of years while we get everything done,” Congdon said.

Hathaway-Miglorie said the existing show arena floods and is unsafe for horses to run on. She said the stalls adjacent to it are in rough shape, but the stalls once used for racing horses are even worse.

“The racehorse barn that’s there now is completely unsafe,” she said. “What they used to build it back in the ‘80s was particle board. When the horses kick it, they make holes.”

This has happened enough, she said, that the walls can no longer be repaired, and horses run the risk of getting their hooves stuck and getting hurt.

“Nobody’s going to pay for a horse event to come in and put their horse in an unsafe stall,” she said. “It has to be done. We just can’t use it the way it is.”

When everything is finished, Hathaway-Miglorie said, the fair will have a bigger arena and a new barn with a washing rack for the horses.

“We’re really hoping this is going to turn into something,” Congdon said. “It’s not just horses — I’m sure there are other groups that’ll be interested in using it.”

In the meantime, the first horse event is planned for Labor Day weekend, which Congdon said brings activity back to the fairgrounds over the holiday — something lacking since the fair was moved to earlier in the summer a few years ago. The Central Vermont Horse Festival — the first of what Hathaway-Miglorie said will be a series of annual events — will be free to the public and include a jumping show and a barrel-racing event.

“The 4-H foundation and the 4-H departments are instrumental to what we do,” Congdon said. “They’re a major part of our fair.”


Man accused in bar shooting changes plea

BURLINGTON — A Rutland man who fired a gun inside a crowded city bar a year ago pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Burlington to a charge of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

Jamal “Shawn” Hall, 41, got into a confrontation with a patron inside the Hide-A-Way Tavern on Center Street shortly after midnight on April 13, 2018, Rutland Police said.

A security video from the downtown bar showed another patron swing a fist at Hall, who removed a .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol from his waistband and fired at the patron, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

While fired at close range and a crowd was present, nobody was wounded, but the slug hit a pool table, Rutland City Police reported. Police said a second shot was fired as Hall fled out the back door.

Hall, who claimed other addresses in Brooklyn and Troy, New York, will be sentenced July 29 by Judge Christina Reiss. She accepted the guilty plea, but postponed a decision on the signed seven-page plea agreement

Hall is prohibited from possessing any firearms because he is a convicted felon in Vermont and New York. His criminal record includes convictions for cocaine possession July 14, 2015, and heroin possession July 10, 2012, in Vermont. He also has felony convictions in New York for criminal possession of a controlled substance on May 29, 2009, and forgery and criminal sale of a controlled substance on Jan. 8, 2004, the indictment said.

Reiss ordered Hall to remain in custody pending sentencing. Deputy marshals returned him to the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans following the change of plea hearing. He had denied the gun charge when arraigned Oct. 25.

A federal grand jury indicted Hall on June 20, but it remained sealed until Oct. 9.

Rutland Police said Hall was eventually identified as the barroom shooter a few days after the incident, but he eluded law enforcement until last summer. Police said they first got a tip from a Proctor woman who said Hall borrowed her car and never returned it in late July.

Vermont State Police said they tried to pull over the stolen car on Route 7 in Mount Tabor about 5:09 p.m. Aug. 2. This led to a high-speed chase through Danby, Wallingford, Clarendon and into Rutland, reaching speeds of 100 mph. A tire deflation device was placed in Rutland Town in an attempt to stop the car, Sgt. Eden Neary said in a news release. The car went over a grassy median to avoid the spikes.

The Honda continued into Rutland City, where police were able to flatten two tires before the driver lost control trying to turn onto Allen Street, records show. A low-speed crash occurred when the car slid into another vehicle at the intersection. The driver, identified as Hall, fled from the car, ran across four lanes of Route 7, but was arrested inside the Vermont State Fairgrounds.

Police said Hall advised he had taken Ecstasy before being stopped.

“This case represents the collaborative efforts of local, state and federal authorities to try and keep the community safe,” Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy said last fall. She thanked U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan for making the prosecution of illegal firearms possession cases a priority.

The Rutland City Police, Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Vermont State Police, Rutland County Sheriff’s Department and Fair Haven Police Department worked on the joint investigation and capture of Hall.

Farmers market sees continued success

As winter turns into spring, Greg Cox said it is a great time to be growing things in Rutland County.

“The only thing I really know a lot about is agriculture,” the owner of Boardman Hill Farm and president of the Vermont Farmers Food Center said this week while staffing a booth at the Rutland Business Show. “The business climate in agriculture is filled with potential. Growing markets and an awareness within the people that what they eat and where it comes from is critical to their health — that is a good climate to be in.”

Cox said that over the last decade, gross sales at the local farmers’ market have quadrupled from $500,000 to $2 million. The economic activity surrounding getting all those goods to market, he said, represents a total of about $5 million to the local economy. Also, he said it’s not just farmers’ markets that are seeing growth.

“The number of folks buying CSAs is going up,” he said. CSA stands for “community-supported agriculture,” an arrangement by which customers pay a sort of subscription fee for assortments of produce through the growing season. “The number of businesses reaching out to farmers for CSAs for delivery to workplaces is going up.”

The Vermont Farm to Plate Network put local food sales at $45.8 million in 2015, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets estimated farmers’ market sales alone to be around $8 million in 2017.

“There’s definitely some success and some challenges depending on location,” said Alissa Matthews, the state’s agricultural development coordinator for direct-to-consumer markets. “There’s varying models in different areas.”

Matthews said the successes tend to be markets that act as business incubators for value-added food products.

“It helps with market research and has proven to be a good market channel for them,” she said.

Matthews said she works with smaller communities to try to optimize their markets and smaller local markets seem to come and go.

“The overall total number of markets hasn’t really fluctuated,” she said. “We seem to lose as many as we gain. We have about 70 markets around the state. ... A traditional market, in the sense we envision it, might not be the right fit for every community, but there are still ways to partner and use food in the community. I think one of the tricky things is ... finding the right variety of vendors and finding the right size for your community. ... I don’t think there’s something that works everywhere or doesn’t work everywhere. It’s about knowing what’s going on in the community.”

Brennan Duffy, executive director of the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, said the market was a massive draw to the area. The summer incarnation, he said, brings in people who might not ordinarily come to downtown Rutland and the winter market rehabilitated a blighted industrial property that was crying out for a new use. He noted as well that the VFFC’s restoration of the former Mintzer property has taken the incubator effect Matthews mentioned to a higher level.

“They have Vermont Maple Sriracha working out of there, and I think there’s potential for more like that,” he said. “That happens, from time to time, where there’s a good business opportunity that comes out of a home-spun idea.”

The farmers’ market moves back to Depot Park for the season next month.


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