From VTDigger.org, 1 Dec 2011.
Natalia Fajardo, VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project, 802.497.7027/802-658-6770
Brendan O’Neill, VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project, 802.825.1609/802-658-6770
VT Human Rights Commission Unanimously Finds State Police Discriminated Against Daniel Alejandro Lopez-Santiago During September Traffic Stop
VT Farmworkers Welcome Decision As Another Step Forward for Community
Thursday, December 1- Winooski, VT– The VT Human Rights Commission held a hearing in Winooski this morning, in which they heard final remarks from Daniel Lopez and the VT Department of Public Safety, before ruling unanimously that the VT State Police discriminated against farm workers’ Daniel Lopez and Antonio-Meza Sandoval during a traffic stop on September 13 on I-89 in Middlesex, VT. The Human Rights Commission’s preliminary report asserted, “The Report makes a preliminary recommendation to the Vermont Human Rights Commission to find that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Department of Public Safety unlawfully discriminated against Daniel Alejandro Lopez-Santiago with respect to national origin, race, and color in violation of Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act.”
At the hearing today, Lopez read a prepared statement to the commission sharing, “When the officer stopped the truck in which we were traveling, and he approached us, I thought nothing would happen because we were not doing anything wrong. But it was the opposite. Officer Hatch focused on Antonio and I due to our skin and hair color, moving away from the original reason for the stop.” In the end, it turns out the VT Human Rights Commission agreed with Lopez and disagreed with the VT Department of Public Safety, which continued to defend the actions of the State Police during the hearing today.
Upon hearing about the ruling in his favor Lopez commented, “We won. Its great. Its a victory not only for us but also for our organization and the farm worker community.” Lopez has been transformed by the incident, and since has been volunteering much of his time to work with the VTMFSP for farm worker rights in Vermont. After hearing about the victory Lopez was already on to the hard work ahead, “Now we just need to build upon this victory and make sure we use it as an opportunity to benefit future generations.”
After being detained back in September Lopez, active with the VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project (VTMFSP), contacted the organization setting off a chain of calls and rapid responses eventually leading to the farmworkers release from Border Patrol; the arrest of 3 Vermonters who blocked a Border Patrol Vehicle; and later that evening with the Governor calling for an investigation into the incident. Just a few weeks later five farm workers from the VTMFSP had a good meeting with Governor Shumlin and were extremely pleased when, just weeks later, a new State Police Bias-Free policy was announced directing officers to not use State resources for immigration enforcement. Additionally, the VTMFSP has been very pleased with State Police Colonel Tom L’Esperance efforts who has since reached out to discuss implementation of the policy and collaboration on trainings.