The only black female lawmaker in Vermont is resigning from office, not because of any scandals or because she’s served in office long enough to warrant an exit, but because of harassment and threats from social media.
Rep. Ruqaiyah “Kiah” Morris, a Democrat from Bennington, won her nomination contest earlier this year to run in the general election for her third term in office. But threats and attacks online forced her to make the difficult decision to exit the race.
“Political discourse, and in particular within the sphere of social media has been divisive, inflammatory and at times, even dangerous,” she explained in her Facebook post announcing her withdrawal. “It is my hope that as a state, we will continue to demand greater support and protections for one another from those forces which seek to divide and destroy our communities.”
Lawmakers and political figures from both sides of the political spectrum have condemned the racist and bigoted forces that were behind Morris' departure.
“It may be easy to think of this as everyday political dissent until one examines the reality that not one other legislator is facing the same level of vitriol or personal attack,” Vermont state NAACP Director Tabitha Pohl-Moore said earlier this month.
According to Pohl-Moore, remarks attacking her children were especially disturbing, including some that “[referred] to her child as an ‘ugly mongrel’ — a well-known epithet used to disparage children of mixed race,” she added.
Republicans were also outraged at the attacks that forced Morris to resign.
“We should be much further ahead than we are as a nation in terms of acceptance and tolerance, whether it’s sexual orientation, or gender, or race — and we aren’t,” GOP Gov. Phil Scott said.
The state’s Attorney General’s office has opened an investigation this week into the threats that have been made against Morris.
It is indeed disturbing that this sort of thing happens in our country. Female lawmakers still face rampant harassment and abuse while serving inside their respective legislatures across the nation. The added problems associated with social media only make things worse, especially for women and people of color.
A lawmaker like Morris, who is respected enough within her community to continue getting sent back to the statehouse, does not deserve to be treated in such a way.
Criticisms from constituents and others against lawmakers may make sense when it comes to their policy stances or opinions. But these criticisms should remain civil, and no attack against any lawmaker should ever be deemed excusable on the basis of their identities.
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