James Lawton: It's past time for the rumors to stop

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"Rumors are carried by haters, spread by fools and accepted by idiots."

— Ziad K. Abdelnour

In today's politics, there is nowhere that this quote is more evident than the current atmosphere, in Washington DC, surrounding this administration. No lie is too big not to tell. Truth be damned, because the truth only gets in the way of a good juicy story. It has become completely acceptable now for people to fabricate and spread incredibly ridiculous lies about anyone, as long as the target is the perceived political opponents. A truth that became very clear to many after [Vermont Attorney General] T.J. Donovan's fumbled press conference in Bennington is that we don't have to look as far away as Washington, D.C., to find such nonsense.

When you are a politician who is a person of color, holding a seat of power in the state of Vermont, you have no protection at all against the racial harassment, threats, and character assassination that my wife, former Representative Kiah Morris, went through for two years. It was clearly explained to us that even if someone actually used the N-word, in a diatribe against her, while claiming it was about their disagreement with her policies, that too was protected free speech under the guise of "political dissent."

Let that sink in for a moment. If a politician is Jewish, a person can make anti-Semitic remarks in a hate-filled castigation against what they perceive as unfair policies that might be promoted by that Jewish lawmaker! If you are a lawmaker who is a person of color, anyone can be as racist as they want to be, to the point of using the N-word, as long as they make their political argument in that same statement!

So, here is the million-dollar question, what about when a person is no longer a politician? What excuses are left for the very loud and local haters to continue this nonsense to this very day? My wife, Kiah Morris, has not been a politician since August of 2018, and yes, she did officially resign of her own accord for the safety of our family.

She was never asked to step down by anyone or any state entity. She resigned correctly and by all the rules that apply, much to the dismay of certain storytellers. So why hasn't this stopped? When you can no longer claim "political dissent" toward her legislative policymaking and you continue, or even increase, the level of said harassment, I ask you what reasons are left?

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Honestly, you are left with only three choices: Jealousy of, misogyny toward, or hate for a tremendously successful black woman living in Vermont. You cannot claim free speech protection due to political dissent against a private citizen without committing clear character assignation and malicious libel.

In addressing some of the more serious claims, I must first make this as clear as possible: Neither Kiah nor myself has said "Bennington is a racist town!" Neither Kiah nor I has said "Vermont is a racist state!" That ridiculous notion is pure hyperbole, by people triggered by their own insecurity. Do we have deeply racist people who live here? Yes, that is an undeniable fact. Do we have dangerous white supremacist groups recruiting here? Yes, there are five of these groups in Vermont right now. These are just plain, albeit very painful, facts.

To be clear, Kiah was never asked to step down from her committee assignment; in fact, they begged her not to resign because the loss of her voice at the table would be a detriment to Vermonters. Other than the same ridiculous ethics complaint, made by an extremist gun rights individual against all 89 legislators who voted for the S.55 gun bill. There was never any investigation by the Ethics Committee of Kiah during her entire four-year term! Kiah was never more than just one vote, out of 89 house reps that voted for the S.55 bill. She was not a sponsor of the S.55 bill, she was not a co-sponsor on the S.55 bill. Period!

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Kiah never embezzled, nor did she attempt to embezzle any money from the state. Any and all money she collected was money that was hers to collect; it was money that was owed to her while traveling on state business or staying home sick while taking part in her committee work via phone. Believe it or not, we have technology like that in the Vermont State House.

Now, for some of most the ridiculous stories being flown on a regular basis, prompted by locals but spread throughout the entire state.

"Kiah Morris came here from Chicago, sent here by President Obama as part of the Clinton Initiative, with an agenda to take Vermonters' guns away!" There are people who actually believe this nonsense.

I guess somehow, they knew, when Kiah moved here in 2008, that then 10-year incumbent Anne Mook would retire before the 2014 election, and that six years after moving here, Kiah could win Anne's seat against the five other local citizens that she ran against! That makes perfect sense.

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"Kiah Morris brought Black Lives Matter and fake racism here to Vermont in order to destroy Vermont culture!" and "is responsible for getting all of the schools to fly the BLM flags." Phew, where do I even start on these ridiculous notions? Except to say, No! She was not responsible for a single one being raised! The kids do actually have minds of their own, and they worked very hard to accomplish their own goals.

In my 60 years living here in Bennington, I could never have imagined a day when my black wife and my black son would not be safe here in my hometown or in my childhood home. But that day has come. When I see too many citizens of this township and this state befriend, encourage and support a white supremacist's acts against my black family, what is left for us?

The incredulous excuses people come up with like, "He has a good reason for being racist, because of Kiah's reverse racism!" are insane at best!

When you run around using terms like "black corruption," "liberal supremacy," "Black supremacy" and "reverse racism" and then push posts and videos claiming that "she is a race-baiter" and a "terrorist," or that this one single black woman is "destroying Vermont" and "Vermont's culture," all while desperately claiming you yourself are not racist, I can only end with this famous James Baldwin quote:

"I cannot believe what you say, because I see what you do!"

James R. Lawton is a lifelong resident of Bennington. He is married to former state Rep. Kiah Morris.


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