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Scott decries targeting of family from New York in Hartford

  • Chris Brown and Hilary Anne Hallett sit for a portrait inside their Hartford, Vt., home. Brown and their son were driving from their second home in Vermont, with New York license plates, when a man told them "we don't want any of your kind here." (VPR - Howard Weiss-Tisman)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/13/2020 12:45:47 PM
Modified: 5/13/2020 9:32:19 PM

HARTFORD — A Hartford man who recently moved to the area says he was targeted for having out-of-state license plates and yelled at last week amid rising fears over the spread of COVID-19.

The incident has led to an apology from Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, who has urged visitors to stay away from the state over fears of spreading the virus.

In a regularly scheduled COVID-19 press conference Wednesday morning, Scott said the incident against new Hartford resident Chris Brown, who is African American, also had “racial undertones.”

“This virus cannot be used as an excuse for hate, bigotry or division,” Scott said Wednesday.

Scott’s apology comes after the incident last week when Brown, a history professor at Columbia University, took his 11-year-old son out to buy a Mother’s Day present.

Brown moved from New York City with his family to their second home in Vermont around two months ago, after his university decided to move classes online. He and his family, who quarantined after arriving in Vermont, plan to stay in the state until classes resume in person, but haven’t changed the license plates on their car.

Brown believes those New York plates are the reason he was stopped by two men standing outside of their parked pickup truck at the bottom of his road, at the intersection with Route 4 in Quechee on Friday morning.

“He started saying, ‘You don’t belong here. Get out of here,’ ” Brown recalled of one of the men.

Stunned, Brown tried to explain that he and his family own a home in Hartford.

He said the confrontation took a racist turn when the man, who was white, told him that the governor didn’t want “your kind around here.”

“He said, ‘We don’t want your drugs and your crime and your COVID,’ ” Brown recalled. “That has a very strong racial implication.”

Brown, 51, considers the accusation that he might bring drugs or crime into Vermont both ludicrous and upsetting, adding that the claim has “all kinds of implied racial biases.”

After he was able to calm the man down and leave, Brown said he called Vermont State Police who began investigating the “bias-related” incident with aid from the Hartford Police Department. They have not determined the identities of the two men who confronted Brown.

Brown said he also hopes his report will make Vermont Gov. Phil Scott aware of how some residents may be taking his orders regarding travel restrictions in the midst of COVID-19.

VPR first reported the incident.

When asked at Wednesday’s conference about whether his travel restrictions may have contributed to Brown being targeted, Scott said that he has tried to make it clear those restrictions should not be turned into an “us-versus-them situation.”

Scott’s administration has ordered that everyone coming into the state quarantine for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus. Even as he as ratcheted down restrictions, he still told visitors last week that they should stay away from the state.

“My message is to stay home, if you can, and not come to Vermont at this point in time,” Scott said in a press conference last week.

Scott has also defended his deployment of transportation workers stationed at Vermont’s borders counting the number of out-of-state license plates coming into the state.

Locally, Hartford is trying to keep track of how many seasonal residents are staying in Hartford by requesting they notify the town of their arrival and quarantine for 14 days.

Following the news of Brown’s encounter, State Rep. Kevin Christie, a longtime Hartford resident who is African American and is on the Vermont Human Rights Commission, called the confrontation “clearly racist, derogatory and biased” Wednesday.

He said it makes clear the need to have more open conversations about race in the Upper Valley community and for people to be aware of their own “unconscious biases.”

“This is my home. I’ve lived here all my life,” said Christie, who added that the incident has struck chords of both anger and sadness. “This is not Hartford.”

Beyond the racism he felt in the confrontation, Brown says the incident also speaks to a growing divide between states.

“I can’t think of another time in American history where states have felt it necessary to treat their borders as something that needs to be policed,” Brown said. “There are new ways Americans are turning on each other that we’ve never done in this county.”

Brown, who has been visiting Vermont with his family for years before deciding to buy a home here, said the incident has given them pause.

“You become aware of the fact that there are folks who are not sure about anything that’s unfamiliar,” Brown said.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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