Thursday, police arrested a man on charges of disorderly conduct after he allegedly posted Ku Klux Klan flyers on the front doors of two women of color in Burlington. The appearance of the flyers led to a community outcry in Burlington.
Even though the suspect admitted to posting the flyers, the prosecutor doesn't expect an easy case.
When police arrested 21-year-old William Schenk of Burlington Thursday, Mayor Miro Weinberger said the community response and arrest send a clear message.
“You don't get to do this kind of thing here in Burlington, Vermont,” said Weinberger. “You don't get to threaten people of color in this community. If you do, you should expect this kind of robust marshaling of resources and effort in response.”
Even as Weinberger and others spoke about the clear violation of the community's moral standards, they made it clear this case could be quite challenging.
Schenk claims to be a recruiter for the KKK, and told police he was in Burlington in search of new Klan members, distributing as many as 50 flyers around town.
Posting flyers - even flyers in favor of hate groups - is generally protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
But after canvassing the neighborhood and asking the public for help, Burlington police say they only know of two flyers posted at people's homes - and residents were both black women.
Chittenden County State's Attorney TJ Donovan said that is key.
“When you send a flyer that contains the KKK and has a hooded Klansmen to a person of color,” Donovan explained, “the message is one of intimidation, of hate, and of violence.”
Because the flyers seemed to be targeted at women of color, Donovan's legal argument is that posting them amounts to a threat.
“But what's clear in the jurisprudence on freedom of speech is that threats are not protected speech,” said Donovan.
Even then, Donovan said he expects the case to be appealed all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court for legal clarification.
Shenk is expected in court Friday to face two charges of disorderly conduct.