BENNINGTON, Vt. (AP) — An ex-Vermont legislator who resigned after receiving racial threats was the victim of racial harassment and crimes but no charges will be filed because of free speech protections and insufficient evidence, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced Monday.
To address incidents of racism and hate, Donovan said his office has launched a statewide reporting system for bias incidents that his office said will encourage police and prosecutors to share reports with the civil unit of the attorney general's office. He also urged Vermont residents to stand up to racism and hate.
"What that means today is that we meet hateful speech coming from one street corner with more speech coming from the next street corner not with hate but with love and compassion and solidarity," he said.
Kiah Morris was Vermont's only black female legislator when elected. She said online and other harassment and threats followed until she resigned in 2018.
"I say to you that this work is not done and that we are better than this," she said to the crowd of community members, lawmakers and police Monday. "But it's going to take real work and we have to have the courage to rise up and dive in. Do this work for all of us. The soul of our state is in your hands. Please take good care of it."
Midway through the press conference, Max Misch, a white nationalist who had harassed Morris, walked in. Some members of the crowd booed and protested and then raised their coats around him so that other people couldn't see him.
Misch said after the press conference that he's an online troll out of boredom and because "it's fun."
The two years of online threats were racist and demeaning and caused Morris to fear for the safety of herself and her family, Donovan said. The first amendment is restrictive with the power of prosecutors when the statements involve public officials, he said.
"I find the statements presented to us in this matter while racist, insulting and degrading are not subject to prosecution. The constitution does not permit us to prosecute racist speech because we find it offensive."
This story has been corrected to show that Morris was Vermont's only black female legislator when elected, not the first black female legislator.