Kiah Morris, the first black woman to ever serve in Vermont’s state legislature, is speaking out about her decision to resign in late September after facing repeated harassment — including acts of intimidation at her home that forced her and her husband, who was recovering from heart surgery, to flee to a different town. Morris, who was first elected in 2014 and won re-election in 2016, announced that she wouldn’t seek reelection this year — despite running unopposed — after facing vandalism, death threats that were seen by her young son, and a break-in to her home while her family was present. Despite her declaring her intent to leave office, intimidation from angry youths who would pound on her house’s windows and doors at night continued until she and her husband, who was recovering from heart surgery, were forced to flee her home in Bennington and move to another town.
“There’s obviously online harassment that can happen, and that’s a part of our social media world right now, but then when things started happening in everyday life, that’s when it becomes really worrisome and terrifying,” she told The Associated Press. “That’s the worst part about this. I realized, in seeing what’s happened over the last few years … seeing that our system is not set up in a way to protect someone like me, I cannot be the legislator that I want to be. I cannot speak my truths in a way that need to have been said. I cannot do these things and be secure, be assured of safety for me and my family.”
The lack of action from police to protect her and her family, she added, was shameful.
“There is a component of harm that takes place, whether you say that it’s protected speech or not. And that, I feel, has not been fully vetted and appreciated yet,” she said, explaining that activists, average citizens, and even children in schools were also left without recourse against similar harassment and intimidation.
“Are our law enforcement actually equipped, capable, and knowledgeable enough to really deal with these kinds of complex cases that on their face may seem like a simple act of vandalism, but have so much more happening underneath? They don’t have those capabilities,” she continued. “When it comes to our state’s attorney and they see all this evidence and they say, ‘I can’t move forward with charges because the statute’s not strong enough,’ that’s a systemic failure that has to be addressed or otherwise everyone is left vulnerable.”
Vermont, the first state to abolish slavery and recognize same-sex civil unions, is famous for its progressive heritage but remains incredibly non-diverse, with a population that is 94.4 percent white. In recent years, The Associated Press reports, indications have shown that white supremacy has been on the rise — or at least increasingly visible — as neo-nazi fliers have begun appearing on the state’s college campuses.
“This is deep racism coming out, and there are Vermonters hunting down other Vermonters here. This is awful for our state,” said Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, a white Democrat, in response to Morris’ resignation. “Rather than shake our heads and say, ‘Oh, what a shame,’ we all need to buckle down and figure out what steps we can take, what steps each of us can take, however large or small, to erode some of the system that allow racism to continue.”
Watch video of The Associated Press’ interview with Morris below.
Read the full story at The Associated Press.