South Burlington resident “Annette” Anako Lumumba was allegedly killed by her partner in an act of domestic violence on May 3, 2018. The incident rocked the community and prompted several residents to speak with city council members Meaghan Emery and Thomas Chittenden. The request: act. 

The city council, along with the police department, the South Burlington Community Justice Center, and local partners HOPE Works and Steps to End Domestic Violence, hope to do just that. 

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the city and its partners plan to host a public series of domestic violence awareness events, followed by sexual violence awareness events in April. Event organizers and event attendees may also discuss the possibility of an “Annette Fund” to help victims of domestic violence, councilor Meaghan Emery said.

“Annette Lumumba’s death in May of 2018 in a domestic violence dispute was very troubling to this community,” Emery said. “We decided, and it took some time until the timing felt like it was right, that we would go ahead and take up kind of the community’s will to do something about this.”

Work on the domestic violence awareness events began last spring. Several council members, South Burlington Police Chief Shawn Burke and South Burlington Community Justice Center Director Lisa Bedinger met to discuss how they could address the problem of domestic violence. 

Then, Burke spoke with Lumumba’s family to see if linking Annette’s name with the event would be all right by them. 

“We want to be respectful of what this might stir within them emotionally,” he said. 

Lumumba’s relatives were grateful to both the police department and the community for raising awareness, Burke said. “They’re an amazing family,” he added.

With the family’s blessing secured, organizers will host two community discussions on Oct. 10 and 30 from 5:30-8 p.m. in the Tuttle Middle School Cafeteria. The discussions will be free and open to the South Burlington community and food will be provided, according to Bedinger. 

The events will begin with panel presentations, followed by group discussion.

The first event will focus on context and general information about domestic violence across Vermont, Bedinger said. Victims of domestic violence will also share their stories with attendees that evening. 

The second event will focus on resources available to victims both through the police department and in the community. Another part of the discussion will include warning signs in young individuals’ relationships, Bedinger added. 

“Part of the issue with domestic violence is it’s hidden,” Bedinger said. “If it’s less hidden, part of what we can do is get resources to people.”

She added the more aware a community becomes of the prevalence of domestic violence the more apt individuals may be to report it.

“Annette is not alone, we know this is happening in other homes in South Burlington,” Bedinger said. “We want this to be a safe community for people to get support.”

Participants might also discuss calling on legislators for policy change around restraining orders and other pertinent matters, according to Emery.

“We’re going to be discussing serious issues,” Emery said. “It’s also going to be issues that we hope that we can really tackle together as a group.”

Police officers plan to attend both sessions and will speak on a panel at the second event. According to Burke, the department hopes the community will gain greater awareness of the pervasiveness of domestic violence in Vermont communities and how they can help through efforts with non-government organizations. 

According to Burke, Lumumba’s death did not change the department’s methods for handling domestic violence situations.

“Unfortunately, what her death has done has emphasized the need for police to utilize the lethality assessment,” he said. That assessment gauges a victim’s risk level – at every step of an investigation.

Last year, the department held a policy review and subsequent changes included bolstering training for domestic violence cases, Burke said at an April city council meeting. The new policy entails a victim-centric approach, with South Burlington officers examining ways to empower victims, and use the lethality assessment. 

“It’s not about the call that you’re at, it’s about all the family dynamics that have led up to that call,” Burke said at the April meeting.

Organizers also hope to hold an assembly for high schoolers addressing relationships and warning signs of domestic violence, among other topics. 

“We see this as an age when young people are developing patterns of behavior in their social relationships, in their amorous relationships,” Emery said. 

The council will also be presented with a resolution to support the events and acknowledge a commitment to the community’s safety.

“These are ideas that we would like the community to take ownership of,” Emery said, adding one thing community members might consider is starting a fund in Annette Lumumba’s name. 

The fund could be used to help city residents gain the necessary funds to escape dangerous domestic situations. 

“Our community does not wish to turn a blind eye to these very private dramas that occur amongst us,” Emery said. 

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