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Vermont's Only Black Female Lawmaker Resigns Amid Racial Harassment

Vermont state Rep. Kiah Morris has resigned from office, citing extensive racial harassment and telling The New York Times that the lack of response from local law enforcement has been "stunning."

Morris, who was the only black woman in the state Legislature, announced in August that she wouldn't run for re-election. She wrote that political discourse had become "divisive, inflammatory and at times, even dangerous."

Now she is leaving office even earlier than planned. In addition to the ongoing harassment, she says that her husband is recovering after open-heart surgery.

"I step away now to focus on caring for and supporting my family during this time of transition and ensure our health, safety and well-being are prioritized," she wrote on Tuesday, when she announced her formal resignation effective immediately.

Morris, a Democrat, was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2014, and represented Bennington. She ran for re-election, advancing in an August primary, but then decided to drop out of the race.

On Aug. 30, Morris spoke to Vermont Public Radio about her decision to not run for re-election.

"Beginning at the last election cycle I just started having this uptick of being a really intentional target of a number of different folks that are affiliated with white supremacist groups," she said.

"It's been very harrowing to see not only this happening within the online discourse world but also happening within the real world," she told the member station. "We had propaganda being left underneath the door of the Democratic Party. I had a home invasion, vandalism — even the woods near my house where we go and walk frequently as a family had swastikas painted all over the trees there."

On Thursday, VTDigger, a nonprofit news site, reported that a group of teenagers banged on the doors of Morris' home and a neighboring house last week. The police describe the incident as pranks that were not targeting anyone in particular, according to the news site, but an attorney for Morris says there were a series of events that amount to "a campaign of harassment."

There is also an ongoing investigation into reports of threats made against Morris online.

Morris and her attorney have accused the local police of not responding adequately to her concerns, the Times reports. Despite being an elected official, she told the newspaper, "I couldn't even find the protection and the justice that my family deserves." She called the situation "stunning."

Morris also spoke to the Washington Post on Thursday about her decision to leave office.

"The sacrifices were becoming too great," she said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.