F-35 jets assault the Vermont cities with the state’s highest proportions of black, brown, and immigrant people
In the weeks before millions of people around the world would be taking to the streets to demand an end to police violence and to support Black Lives Matter, Vermont’s governor went way further than any other state governor in the wrong direction. On top of the ongoing cop violence in Vermont, and just weeks before the cruel torture and murder of George Floyd in May 2020, Governor Phil Scott gave the order to vastly increase the state-sponsored violence on cities full of children with F-35 jets. The very cities that have Vermont’s highest proportions of black, brown, and immigrant people.
Although he said “It’s not enough just to say that Black lives matter,” the governor actually only issued a meager set of executive orders in September 2020. He included not a single one of the more meaningful “Ten‑Part Plan for Police Reform” offered by the Vermont ACLU and 16 other social justice organizations the month before.
While national data shows that racial minorities and immigrants are disproportionately assaulted by police, the data also shows that most of the cop violence is directed at white working-class people. The state-sponsored F-35 violence in Vermont similarly targets black, brown, and immigrant disproportionately but mostly targets white working-class people. But there are differences.
One difference is that, here in Vermont, black, brown, immigrant, and white working-class people are targeted with both brutal cop violence and brutal F-35 violence.
Another difference is that the 115 decibel F-35 violence especially hurts and injures infants and children, the elderly, and the disabled.
Another difference: while cops generally target one person at a time, the F-35 assaults thousands of people all at once.
Another difference: while cops generally subject a particular person to a single assault, the F-35 repeatedly assaults civilians with its 300 to 600 takeoffs and landings a month.
Another difference: while the F-35 is not an example of militarized police, it is an example of directly using the military to persecute, pain, and injure civilians.
Don’t even try to invoke “national security”
Unlike the cop violence, for which pretexts like supposed split second decision-making have been offered, not even a single potentially legitimate reason has ever been offered for recklessly conducting the state-sponsored F-35 violence in densely populated cities. Certainly “national security” cannot be invoked: No national security reason exists for conducting routine F-35 training flights from a runway in a densely populated area.
Governor Phil Scott is responsible
The US constitution empowers Congress “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia” [now called the state national guard]. But the constitution goes on to “reserv[e] to the States respectively . . . “the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” Art. 1, '8, cl. 16.
This is one of the very few express delegations of authority to the states in the US Constitution. The express reservation of the authority of training the militia to the states goes further than the general reservation of powers to the states in the 10th amendment and is reinforced by that amendment. It is also reinforced by the disclaimer of authority to regulate the noise of military aircraft by the FAA and the EPA, as described in the article, “No federal law preempts state and local noise regulation of the 115-decibel F-35.”
The Vermont constitution makes the governor the commander in chief, so the governor is responsible for ordering the illegal F-35 training flights over densely populated areas and for the resulting pain and injury. Correspondingly, the governor has the authority to ground the F-35 or order their removal from the densely populated cities.
The F-35 training flights are illegal because they violate “the discipline prescribed by Congress,” the military’s own regulations, constitutional rights, and Vermont laws, as described in the 62-page “Complaint to the Inspector General of the Vermont National Guard” signed by 657 Vermonters. The F-35 training flights in densely populated cities that target black, brown, immigrant and working-class whites also violate the governor’s oath of office to “do equal right and justice to all persons.”
Winooski needs the F-35 training flights to stop now
Let’s consider the City of Winooski, just 1760 yards in direct line from one end of the runway at Burlington International Airport (BTV). More than half the city is within the US Air Force designated 5.2 mile by 1.2 mile oval-shaped F-35 noise target zone centered on the runway. Winooski is a working-class city. The most densely populated in Vermont. With the state’s most ethnic diversity.
23% of Winooski residents are people of color, nearly four times the ratio for Vermont as a whole. 22% are foreign born and more than 20 languages spoken, while for Vermont fewer than 5% are foreign born. Nearly 30% of Winooski’s population lives in poverty, triple Vermont’s 10% poverty rate. 63% of Winooski’s 3,259 homes are rental, close to double the rate for Vermont. In Winooski 17% of people under 65 have a disability, while for Vermont 11% have one. 97.9% of the 774 children in Winooski’s K‑12 public schools are on free or reduced-price lunch, while for the state 38% of the children are.
Notwithstanding the obvious needs of its people for relief from any extra burden, under the leadership of the governor, the state took action to make matters far worse for Winooski by foisting the 115 decibel F-35 on the city. Any quest to improve housing, schools, or opportunity for its low-income, ethnically diverse, and immigrant populations was thwarted by repeated exposure to that painful F-35 noise. Any quest to lift people out of poverty, any quest to remove instability and uncertainty from daily life, was thwarted by the ear- and brain-damaging F-35 takeoffs 8 to 16 times a day, four days a week. Plus one weekend a month. Plus night flights. Plus just as many F-35 landings.
Burlington, South Burlington, and Williston need the F-35 training flights to stop now
But it’s not just Winooski that the state’s military forces target. The F-35 flight path crosses low over working class parts of the City of Burlington, including the densely populated Chase Street area, East Avenue, and parts of Old and New North End wards. Immediately adjacent both sides of the runway is the Chamberlin School neighborhood of more than 1000 small affordable working class homes in the City of South Burlington. The Chamberlin School is located just 800 yards from the runway, with its 552 pre-K to 5th graders. On takeoff or landing in the direction opposite to Winooski, the runway aims at working-class homes, and at pre-schools, industrial parks, and stores in the Town of Williston. In all, 6,663 black, brown, immigrant, and white working-class people live within the noise target zone.
Hearing damage, impaired learning and impaired cognitive development
As reported by the US Air Force itself in 2013, repeated exposure to military aircraft noise at the level of the F-35, can damage hearing. The Air Force also reported that the much lower aircraft noise level produced by civilian aircraft was still sufficient to impair the learning and cognitive development of children living in the flight path of heavily used commercial airports. The US Air Force identified the entire oval-shaped noise target zone as an area “generally considered unsuitable for residential use.” So it was no secret for the state’s political and military leaders that locating the F-35 at BTV would cause pain and injury to children and adults on a mass scale.
The people spoke
Those leaders also heard from the affected people: At town meeting, the City of Burlington voted in 2018 to “request the cancellation of the planned basing of the F-35 at BTV.” Shortly thereafter, city councils in Burlington, South Burlington, and Winooski voted to add their voices to the request for cancellation. The City of Winooski then voted at town meeting in 2021 to “urge the state to halt the F-35 training in a densely populated area, such as Winooski.” In September, the city’s mayor, Kristine Lott, invited the governor to meet with the council but he refused. Instead, the governor ignored and disparaged the will of the voters and of the city councils. The people most affected were effectively disenfranchised.
In response to a request for comment, Mohamed Abdi, Director of The Black Perspective, wrote in an email:
I have personal experience with this noise as I lived in Winooski and now live right near the Winooski/Burlington bridge. The noise from the F-35 jets is loud enough for me to need to block my ears with my hands. Sometimes I would be in a zoom meeting and the noise will be so loud that I will have to mute myself so as to not disturb the rest of the people attending. To intentionally train in an area highly populated by minorities isn’t something that just happened. It’s clearly intentional and sheds light on the oppression from racism that utterly still lingers. I hear these jets right now, as I write this, and I can’t even stay focused. I, a former citizen of Winooski and the director of The Black Perspective, completely demand that this act of oppression come to an end.
The Vermont Governor piled on yet one more source of state-sponsored violence
The governor thus foisted the F-35 on the black, brown, immigrant and working-class white families whose 2,963 homes are located within the F-35 noise target zone. Nearly all of those housing units are affordable working-class homes. This huge amount of workforce housing, where some 1,300 children live, was rendered unstable and undesirable. An additional barrier to health, learning and cognitive development was created. The Vermont governor thus moved many black, brown, immigrant and white working-class families deeper into poverty and suffering.
As would be the case for any toxic situation facing families with children, those who can afford to move out do so. For those forced to remain, the hundreds of routine 115-decibel F-35 training flights each month are creating an unofficial zoning district where low income people, disproportionately black, brown and immigrant, are being concentrated. This is state-sponsored population gerrymandering based on race, class, and immigrant status. And it is all happening now, right before our ears. F-35 violence piled on top of the ongoing threat of cop violence, both disproportionately impacting black, brown, immigrant, and working-class populations.
How do you explain it?
What is your opinion? In your mind, is the F-35 assault on cities full of children best explained as a class, race, and immigrant hate crime implemented by the governor? Or do you think it is merely the governor violating the law in depraved indifference to the suffering of thousands of black, brown, immigrant and white working-class families?
Write or call your public servants:
Governor Phil Scott 802-828-3333 Chief of Staff <Jason.Gibbs@vermont.gov>
Vermont National Guard's Complaint Line: 802-660-5379
Add your own report & complaint to the online F-35 Spring-Summer 2021 Report & Complaint Form: https://tinyurl.com/4zjjn39x
See the responses to the F-35 Spring-Summer 2021 Report & Complaint Form (so far 511 responses): https://tinyurl.com/3svacfvx
Senator Patrick Leahy 800-642-3193 Chief of Staff <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Senator Bernie Sanders 800-339-9834 <Senator@sanders.senate.gov>
Congressman Peter Welch 888-605-7270 Chief of Staff <email@example.com>
Burlington City Council <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger <email@example.com>
Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott <firstname.lastname@example.org>
S. Burlington City Council Chair Helen Riehle <email@example.com>
Williston Selectboard Chair Terry Macaig <firstname.lastname@example.org>
VT Senate President Becca Balint <email@example.com>
VT House Speaker Jill Krowinski <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Attorney General TJ Donavan <DonovanTJ@gmail.com>
States Attorney Sarah George <Sarah.email@example.com>
Vermont’s Federal Prosecutor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Adjutant General Brig Gen Gregory C Knight <email@example.com>
Major J Scott Detweiler <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Wing Commander Col David Shevchik <email@example.com>
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall <Frank.Kendall@us.af.mil>