- Sunday July 29th, 2012 :: 09:26 p.m. EDT
Press Release from BPD re Protest Activity & Police Response at NE Governors & Canadian Premiers Conference 7/29/2012
Media & Information Release
Protest Activity & Police Response
New England Governors and Canadian Premiers Conference
July 29, 2012
As we have stated unequivocally for over two decades, the City and its police department welcome free speech, assemblies, sometimes manifesting in protest. Today we welcomed 300-400 peaceful people protesting a variety of causes and issues. Those gathering on our streets were given assistance by a host of officers closing intersections and blocking traffic so they could march through the streets of Burlington eventually stopping in front of the Hilton Hotel where they were allowed to gather blocking traffic on two separate occasions. It was only when a small number chose to actively inhibit the movement of approximately 200 people making their way to a dinner event and failed to comply with numerous warnings that this situation unfolded with conflict. Police have responsibility to ensure the free movement of those transiting out City.
The following narrative outlines the chain of events based on information available now.
Today the New England Governor’s and Eastern Canadian Premiers Conference began in Burlington. Throughout the day today a variety of protest groups rallied peacefully without incident at various locations in the City. Beginning in City Hall Park, moving through the streets of the City during the afternoon, gathering in front of the Hilton Hotel causing a short closure of Battery Street, moving on to Battery Park and returning to the Hilton Hotel for another gathering in the roadway between 300 and 400 protestors exercised their right to speech and assembly on a variety of topics. Following the final large gathering in front of the Hilton the majority of the crowd dispersed.
Until 4:15 pm, all actions and events could were peaceful, as people exercised their right to assemble, their right to free speech and their right to protest. The Burlington Police Department made great efforts to protect these rights, and protect the safety of the demonstrators.
At approximately 4:15 pm 60-70 protestors remained on Battery Street at the Hilton Hotel. Four buses arrived at that time to transport conference attendees from the Hilton to a conference dinner. As the buses arrived, protestors blocked the path of the buses in front of the Hilton. Unable to load the passengers for transport the buses drove away from the front of the Hilton but not before the path of travel was blocked for several minutes by protestors who surrounded them.
As soon as the buses drove away from the Hilton they were followed to their alternate location at the rear of the Hilton on College Street. A group of approximately 40 protestors converged on the rear driveway with approximately ½ of the crowd standing directly in the driveway blocking the path of vehicles entering and exiting.
At approximately 5:00 pm the first bus attempted to leave. A group of 20 to 30 protestors converged on the driveway blocking the bus. Initially, only a few officers were present attempting to move the crowd along. As the bus attempted to drive out of the driveway the protestors locked arms standing in the driveway refusing to move. They were requested to move and warned repeatedly to move but they only backed away a short distance to the sidewalk, continuing to block the egress of the bus.
They were warned several more times before a crowd control team of officers with plastic shields and helmets was deployed to walk ahead of the bus following standard procedure to ensure that protestors were not struck and to assist the bus in leaving. As the officers walked forward they were physically confronted by the crowd. Some began pushing back toward the officers, others sat on the ground while at least two others laid down locking arms.
As officers tried to move those sitting or lying in the driveway others began to push officers and interfere. As Officers attempted to arrest protestors several fled running from the scene. One dragged an officer who was holding him 20-30 feet west on College Street. As that occurred others in the crowd moved west and another officer tried to assist. The assisting officer fell over a sign that had been thrown to the ground. His helmet fell off and he was on the ground as some moved toward him. At that time two officers discharged defensive munitions including 8-10 pepper balls and a sting ball round (a defensive round used to deploy several small rubber “stingball pellets”). Both of these items are pictured in the attached photograph. We believe more than one protestor was hit with these rounds but have received no reports of injuries (other than indirect information about protestors who sustained superficial welts). Both of these discharges were defensive, to protect officers from those in the crowd who were moving toward them. At least one other person was sprayed with pepper spray during the incident. Burlington Police do not carry or use “rubber bullets” as has been characterized by some.
Two officers sustained minor injuries during this portion of the incident.
The most tumultuous persons in the crowd fled the scene as this skirmish unfolded. Police are seeking anyone with information about their identities.
About 15 minutes later the three remaining buses attempted to leave. The crowd again formed in front of the officers escorting the buses. One woman grabbed an officer’s baton and was struck with two additional pepper balls. The woman then released the baton and moved away.
Within the crowd at least one person was wearing goggles and carrying a stick, others carried milk – a tactic known to be used to decontaminate pepper spray, and medics were on hand.
No arrests have been made at this time and investigation is continuing as police work to identify those who played active roles in the violence who fled the area.
We have every faith that this will not change the welcoming nature of the City for lawful assembly and discourse.
Pictured (stingball – black, pepper ball – red)
Burlington, VT Police Department
1 North Ave
Burlington, VT 05401