Racism Contributes to African American State Representative Candidate’s Withdrawal

Representative Morris withdrew her nomination for State Legislator over the weekend! Representative Morris, her Husband James and their son Jamal have been the targets of extremely hateful attacks since she took office four years ago. Unpacking this means examining everything from how law enforcement, the general public, the press and her fellow legislators have chosen to respond.

The criminal justice system is fairly consistent about failing black and brown people and this is no exception. In the same way the burden of proof is overwhelmingly on people of color when police are responding to an alleged crime committed by us (or perhaps just our presence), it falls squarely on us when we are the victims. It becomes a matter of “public safety” when whites feel “uncomfortable” but when an African American is looking for justice we invariably need “more proof”.

As the sponsor of H.492 (Act 54), Kiah was instrumental in the formation of the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel: the Panel (agency heads) that threw the Chair and Vice-chair (myself) under the bus and tossed out the work accomplished over the first 6 months.  Act 54 is the same law that the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council snubbed when they changed the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy without Human Rights Commission review in November 2017 to enable them to receive a 500K grant.

But this is not a surprise to our legislators because the senior leadership has remained silent, as we have informed them of policy implementation violence as it has occurred. This is the legislature that refused to take up language expanding the HRC or making racial profiling illegal this year. The senate refused to introduce a resolution to (next year) amend the Vermont constitution to remove slavery. The House introduced it but wouldn’t take it up.   Though this is the House’ first call for the Senate to amend the Constitution (by removing slavery) since 1777 in all likelihood your are reading/hearing this for the first time (H.R.25, 2018). This leads us to the press, but I’ll stop there because if you don’t see it by now, you just don’t’ want to see it.

Folks across the state are expressing their surprise and outrage at this turn of events. Please stop it. It exacerbates the problem when you continuously express shock and amazement at each manifestation of its existence. Systemic (and overt) racism are just as present (if not more) in Vermont as they are in any other part of the United States. The point is that as unfortunate as this is, to treat it as an isolated event misses the point. The root of this is systemic racism in Vermont and the fact that never in state history has anyone really taken a wholehearted effort to address it. The question is what, if anything can be done to once and for all cause white people to understand that it is morally wrong to trade the lives of black and brown and poor people for political and economic power?

We call upon the Attorney General and Human Rights Commission, in coordination with community stakeholder to revise the ACT 54, Racial Disparities in State Systems, report released 15 December of 2017.  We demand that specific recommendations be tied to resources, implementation timelines and achievement measurement criteria.  We call upon the Senate President Pro Tempore and the House Speaker to  prioritize enacting policy recommendations outlined in the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel Report (Act) 54.


Mark Hughes,
Executive Director,
Justice For All


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