Letter: AG's press conference lacked courage, soul

Posted
To the Editor:

A recent Banner editorial said, " Hate speech crosses the line from free speech as it becomes behavior: it is words that are used to terrorize and intimidate; and as behavior [such as intimidation], it is not entitled to the protections which our Constitution gives to free speech" ("Toward a Vermont where all are welcome," Jan. 28).

I encourage everyone to go to the Banner's website and read the complete editorial. It's the best — and strongest — response I've seen to the pitiful news conference held by state Attorney General T. J. Donovan a couple of weeks ago to address claims by former state representative Kiah Morris of racial bias, hatred, harassment, threats, and hate crimes toward her and her family.

In my opinion, Mr. Donovan's lack of official action — he said that he could not prosecute because free speech protects the perpetrator's actions, especially because Ms. Morris was an elected official — will only make such actions more acceptable. Where's the accountability? The whole thing felt to me more like white privilege in action (full disclosure, I am a white woman), not what it should've been: law enforcement committed to protecting citizens.

The Banner editorial goes on: " [T]here is a point where [free] speech ceases to be speech and becomes odious behavior and it must be regulated within the constraints of the law." Someone said recently that MAGA hats — like that worn by the Catholic boy in Washington, DC on Jan. 19, whose smirk in the face of a Native American elder has gone viral since then — have become today's white hoods. If they're worn by people wearing smirks, too, and who refuse to allow a person of color to pass, I fear that's true.

As the editorial says, "Vermont's law has not kept up with the times. And when the law proves insufficient, the law must change. "

Hate crimes are prosecuted elsewhere. Why not here? Our elected officials must develop the courage to stop whitewashing the terrors of racism. Donovan's press conference is ample evidence we in Vermont need to do a lot more soul-searching.

Genie Rayner,

Bennington

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