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Oct 14, 19

All Cops Are Amber Guyger: Graffiti in Montpelier, VT Remembers Mark Johnson

Report on a recent police murder in Montpelier, Vermont in a wider context of the Amber Guyger case.

Contrary to what this statement’s click-bait title asserts, not all cops are Amber Guyger, who claimed she mistook Botham Jean’s apartment for her own when she broke in and fatally shot him in September of 2018. Botham was a Black 26 year old Saint Lucian man who, at the time his life was stolen, was sitting on his couch eating ice cream and watching tv. Men who are Black, as Botham was, are approximately 2.5 times more likely than white men to die during an encounter with the police. Indeed, the modern police and prison system emerged from white supremacist values that defined Black people as property, and these racist roots matter as much today as they did in the 1800s.

And and not all cops are Chad Bean, a member of the police department in the tiny town of Montpelier, VT who claimed he had no other choice than to fatally shoot Mark Johnson, a white person and an elder who lived in an HUD-subsidized apartment facility in the center of town. Friends say Mark was sweet and shy and struggled with anxiety in social situations. The August morning that Mark was killed, a neighbor called the cops because Mark was reportedly locked out of apartment building, disoriented, and trying to pick the lock to get back inside. Instead of helping him return safely into his home, police murdered him. To the media, cops claimed Mark refused to drop “a deadly weapon.” A weapon which they later admitted was nothing more than a pellet gun. Within the last two years alone, police from this same department shot and killed Nate Giffin by shooting him more than twenty times and state troopers murdered Benjamin Gregware, who was experiencing a mental health crisis on nearby highway 1-89 at the time. Nationally, people who do not neatly fit into society’s definitions of “sane”, like Benjamin Gregware and Mark Johnson, comprise approximately half of the people murdered by police each year.

Though Montpelier VT and Dallas, TX are very different places, Botham and Mark’s untimely deaths are deeply related. And though Guyger and Bean’s actions may be egregious, they are not an aberration from police business as usual.

All police exist to enforce a social order that is by its nature profoundly violent. As such, all police carry out daily atrocities in the name of upholding the interlocking systems of capitalism, colonialism, white supremacy, and state power. Mark and Botham are 2 of the 678 people who have been killed by police in this country so far in 2019, but they are not the only ones to suffer because of police. In the U.S., police imprison 2.3 million people, and keeps nearly 5 million more held captive through parole, probation, electronic home monitoring, and other forms of surveillance. This is not the result of one or two “bad cops” but rather the normal functioning of a policing system designed to maintain the racial, social, and economic inequality required under capitalism.

Wherever there are police, there is police violence. Even in so-called Vermont, which promises a quiet and idyllic life for the affluent white settlers who live here.  But the comfort of some is devastating to many: neighborhood watch signs line the dirt roads here and police are granted impunity to cage or exterminate those who are perceived as a threat to their white woodland utopia. In Vermont, those deemed undesirable or redundant to the needs of capitalism and colonialism are pushed out, eradicated, or caged and shipped like commodities to overcrowded private prisons out of state (and out of sight). These carceral patterns are inseparable from the widespread opioid epidemic that devastates poor rural communities, and the lack of affordable housing, shelters, and mental health care within these same small towns.

It is with these factors in mind that action was taken in so-called Montpelier in the wee hours one early October morning.

At the bridge over the Winooski River, neighbors have laid out an altar of flowers, trinkets, and handwritten letters to memorialize Mark, who was murdered near this location just months earlier. There, the phrase “COPS EVERYWHERE, JUSTICE NOWHERE” along with “RIP MARK” was spray-painted on the sidewalk in big black letters.

For Mark, for Botham, and all who are harmed by police and their world.

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