I am deeply disappointed with the manner in which the attorney general has addressed Kiah Morris’ request for an investigation.
V.S.A. 13, 1023 is simple assault. This and potentially aggravated stalking clearly are crimes committed in this case. V.S.A. 13, 1458 provides injunctive reliefs despite any charges being brought against the “alleged” perpetrator. Instead of prosecuting this case, the attorney general defended and judged it! The resulting new “Bias Incident Reporting Protocol” is deeply problematic. There was no community stakeholders’ coordination in this process. This is indicated by there being no civilian reporting process. I guess they never thought about the potential of a “bias incident” being committed by law enforcement. The protocol internalizes all processes to law enforcement. The person filing the claim has no visibility or involvement in critical referral (HRC, OCR, ACLU, etc.) decisions. Finally, who collects the data?
It’s so sad that Kiah, James and Jamal would be traumatized yet again and let down by the system on the same day. Sadder is that it was all too predictable. There never seems to be a problem figuring out how to protect white folks (alleged perpetrator or victim) and their property throughout all history. There has never seemed to be a problem finding a law that could be applied to prosecuting black folks. In cases where there hasn’t been a law to prosecute black people, we have been a nation that simply created them. All this as white people nervously exclaim “all lives matter” when we try to remind them that black lives matter.
I know that many are wondering where we go from here. First, T.J., apply and prosecute the law in this case and change law if necessary to address future occurrences (13 V.S.A. 1454 & 1458 and 9 V.S.A. 4501-4507). Secondly, Pro Tempore Ashe, Speaker Johnson, Chairwoman White and Chairwoman Copeland-Hanzas, get a handle on civilian oversight of law enforcement by starting with public hearings on civilian oversight of law enforcement in this state (FIPP included)! Third, Chairman Sears and Chairwoman Grad, join them and conduct public hearings on the implementation progress on the only laws designed to address systemic racism, Act 54 (2017), Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel, and Act 9 (2018), Racial Equity in State Government. Finally, Speaker Johnson and Pro Tempore Ashe, embrace fairness, equity and diversity in outcome indicators in the Legislature and lead by prioritizing and championing legislation to meet these objectives. The work required here is the same as the work required addressing all racism in this nation and the good news is that Vermont has already started.
There was a Vermont Democratic Party gathering at the Hilton Hotel in Burlington on Nov. 9, 2016. Word came in on the results of the presidential election and T.J., you looked me in the eyes and said “Don’t worry, Mark. I’ll protect you.” Well, Mr. Attorney General, here we are and I need you to be true to your word. Protect me.
Mark Hughes is the executive director of Justice For All. He lives in Montpelier.