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House Dem Says Cops a Danger to Black Men, Now Sits on Criminal Justice Committee

Democrats have replaced the representative who used the “N-Word” on the state House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee with the representative who said police are a danger to Black men.

It is yet another fiasco from the fallout of the Rep. Nicole Klein Knight (D-Manchester) incident, which continues to wreak havoc within the House Democratic Caucus.

Klein Knight was called out by Black and Latino progressives after she (allegedly) used the “N-Word” more than 20 times during a State House confrontation with 18-year-old Democratic activist Jonah Wheeler. During the encounter, Klein Knight also called security on Wheeler, who is Black.

Klein Knight, who has remained silent since NHJournal broke the story, was booted from her position on the Criminal Justice committee — which handles issues of policing and law enforcement — at the request of Democratic leaders. In a surprise — advocates for law enforcement call it shocking — move, Democrats replaced her with Rep. Manny Espitia (D-Nashua).

Espitia created a controversy of his own when he said Klein Knight’s decision to call State House security officers to confront Wheeler put the young man in danger because he is Black.

“Rep. Klein Knight represents one of the most racially diverse districts in the state and should therefore feel an even greater responsibility to uplift Black, Brown and Indigenous voices,” Espitia said last week. “Instead, she engaged in degrading, bigoted behavior against a young Black man, eventually calling security on him, despite being fully cognizant of the heightened dangers Black men face in this country in the presence of law enforcement.” [Emphasis added.]

Espitia issued a partial apology in response to widespread criticism.

“A statement I recently made in which I referenced the ‘heightened dangers Black men face in this country in the presence of law enforcement’ has been misrepresented in a news article to imply that I was calling the integrity of our Protective Services personnel into question,” Espitia wrote to his House colleagues. “I apologize for not choosing my words more carefully, and I appreciate you providing me the opportunity to make this important clarification.”

Espitia’s view, that systemic racism among law enforcement makes them a danger to people of color, is the basis of the #DefundThePolice movement supported by New Hampshire progressives. While it is embraced by the New Hampshire Black Lives Matter organization and the NH ACLU, polls show it is not a popular view among voters.

Espitia did not respond to a request for comment.

Now, Espitia sits on the committee that oversees law enforcement policy in the state, though his appointment was news to members of the committee contacted by New Hampshire Journal. Rep. Laura Pantelakos (D-Portsmouth) was surprised to learn of Espitia’s placement on the committee and she is not thrilled with his comment about police.

“I think that’s a stupid statement,” she said. 

Rep. John Burt (R-Goffstown), who also serves on the committee, was likewise surprised to learn Espitia was Klein Knight’s replacement.

“I personally think it’s the wrong pick. We deal strictly with law enforcement issues, if he’s already against law enforcement how can he be impartial on votes?” Burt said.

Hollis Police Chief Joseph Hoebeke, speaking as president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, said Espitia’s comments are disheartening and frustrating. 

“You need to be very careful when you make assertions like that. I don’t think it’s appropriate for public officials to say things like that,” Hoebeke said.

Hoebeke said there is simply no data to prove New Hampshire police present a danger to Black men, and there has been a years-long movement in law enforcement to address community concerns. Instead of repeating the #DefundthePolice rhetoric, Espitia should reach out to law enforcement and engage in a conversation, Hoebeke said.

“We need to focus on relationships rather than make more divisions,” Hoebeke said. “Comments like that don’t help.”

Assistant Department of Safety Commissioner Eddie Edwards, said the state works hard to make sure all people are treated fairly. Edwards is Black and a former New Hampshire police chief.

“As someone with firsthand experience and accountability responsibilities, I believe no state is working harder to make certain all residents and visitors are treated with respect and dignity while interacting with law enforcement,” Edwards said.

Pantelakos would not say if Espitia’s views of law enforcement made him a good pick for the committee. Instead, she deferred to the judgment of House Minority Leader Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), who made the choice.

“I would assume that Minority Leader Cushing felt that (Espitia) could do the job. It’s not always easy to say who should be on the committee and who shouldn’t be on the committee,” she said.

Neither Cushing nor his deputy Rep. David Cote (D-Nashua), responded to a request for comment.

Exeter High Labels Catholic Student ‘Bully,’ Defends Punishment Over Free Speech

Exeter High School and SAU 16 struck back against a Catholic student suing over his free speech rights, saying he was disciplined for being a bully and not for expressing his religious views. However, they acknowledge in their court filing that the “bullying” in question was expressing his opinion on gender.

The student, known in the lawsuit as M.P., claims he was disciplined for expressing his opinion, informed by his Catholic faith, that there are only two genders. M.P. expressed these views off the school campus and was then suspended from the football team for one game, according to his lawsuit.

The district’s attorney, Michel Eaton, wrote in a response to the lawsuit filed late last week, there is no free speech case here. Eaton also claims M.P. was not suspended by the school, but benched for one game by his coach. The benching had nothing to do with the school’s anti-discrimination policies regarding transgender issues.

“M.P.’s coach did not decide to bench M.P. based upon M.P.’s opinion that there are only two genders, nor would he. Rather, M.P. was benched for using crude, inappropriate, and disrespectful language while communicating with Student Doe. This behavior was consistent with M.P.’s documented history of bullying and inappropriate behavior, including such behavior on the school bus and such behavior targeted at Student Doe specifically,” Eaton wrote.

Student Doe, who is not transgender or non-binary, is the student with whom M.P. had a reportedly heated conversation regarding gender and sexuality while on the school bus. The conversation later continued via text messaging, according to court records. Student Doe, in turn, reported the conversation — which took place outside the classroom and off the football field — to M.P.’s coach, Eaton wrote.

“M.P. ‘s coach took what he believed to be an appropriate and limited remedial measure to teach and ensure the respect that is expected of all student athletes,” Eaton wrote.

According to Eaton’s filing, Student Doe and M.P. have a long-standing antagonistic relationship. Eaton submitted as evidence the football team code of conduct, which M.P. signed, and copies of the text conversation between M.P. and Student Doe. However, both items were sealed by the court and not available to the public. 

Whether or not M.P. engaged in bullying, the district acknowledges in Eaton’s filing that M.P. was disciplined for expressing his views, however crudely, while off-campus. It’s similar to the free-speech case in which a Pennsylvania high school student was disciplined after she posted a profanity-laced message to Snapchat that she recorded at a convenience store.

The U. S. Supreme Court last year ruled 8 to 1 in favor of Brandi Levy, the former cheerleader at Mahanoy Area High School. The high court found the school violated Levy’s First Amendment rights when it reprimanded and suspended her from the junior varsity team because of her off-campus comments about the cheer team.

While the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sided with Levy in her case, the New Hampshire ACLU has been silent in the case of M.P. In the past, protecting an individual’s personal speech against government action would have been a classic ACLU  case. But the organization has become openly partisan, as The New York Times reported in a story headlined “Once a Bastion of Free Speech, the A.C.L.U. Faces an Identity Crisis.”

Instead of suing on behalf of an individual’s rights,  New Hampshire’s ACLU is part of a federal lawsuit opposing New Hampshire’s new anti-discrimination law. They want to overturn the law preventing teachers and government employees from teaching that “a person, because of their membership in one or more identified group(s), is inherently either: (1) racist, sexist, or oppressive, consciously or unconsciously or (2) superior or inferior to people of another identified group.”

The ACLU-NH is joined in the lawsuit by Andres Mejia,  director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice for the Exeter Region Cooperative School District, and a board member of the Black Lives Matter Seacoast organization. Some Exeter parents have questioned whether a member of a group that claims all white people, regardless of their behavior, participate in white supremacy can treat students fairly. 

Writing about the Exeter case in the Portsmouth Herald, former political consultant Alicia Preston Xanthopoulos defended the Catholic student’s right to express opinions others — including the school district — don’t like.

“No one has the right not to be offended. I do actually have the right to say something that might offend you,” Xanthopoulos wrote. “That’s precisely why there is the First Amendment. It’s not there to protect popular speech, it is there to protect you from being punished by the government for speech that is not popular.

“Which, horrifyingly, is precisely what occurred here.”

NH NEA and ACLU Team Up for Another “Banned Concepts” Lawsuit

New Hampshire’s biggest teacher’s union, the National Education Association-NH, and the state chapter of the ACLU have joined forces to combat New Hampshire’s new anti-discrimination law.

Unlike a previously filed lawsuit that used the phrase “divisive concepts” 103 times (a phrase that does not appear anywhere in the law), the lawsuit has updated its language, referring to the law as the “banned concepts” law.

The phrase “banned concepts” does not appear anywhere in the new law, either.

On Monday, the groups announced a new federal lawsuit filed in the United States District Court in Concord against the state’s new anti-discrimination law.

“This unconstitutionally vague law disallows students from receiving the inclusive, complete education they deserve, and from having important conversations on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the classroom,” said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire.

Meg Tuttle, the president of New Hampshire’s NEA branch, claimed the law prevents teachers from teaching full facts around controversial subjects.

“Parents and educators agree students should learn complete facts about historical events like slavery and civil rights. They agree that politicians shouldn’t be censoring classroom discussions between students and their teachers and that educators shouldn’t have their licenses and livelihoods put at risk by a vague law,” Tuttle said.

The problem for Bissonnette and Tuttle is the law passed this year does nothing to ban any concept from being taught but instead bans students from being discriminated against. Indeed, the law explicitly states it does not prohibit, “as a larger court of academic instruction,” teaching about this history of racism, sexism, etc. 

“I don’t think there’s any statement of facts (in the lawsuit) they can make other than people’s feelings,” said state Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston, one of the legislators behind the bill. “The left created this false image of what the law actually states.”

According to the legal guidance issued to schools by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and the New Hampshire Department of Education, the law does nothing to stop any facet of American history from being taught in the classroom.

“Nothing prohibits the teaching of historical subjects including, but not limited to: slavery, treatment of the Native American population, Jim Crow laws, segregation, treatment of women, treatment of LGBTQ+ people, treatment of people with disabilities, treatment of people based on their religion, or the Civil Rights movement. Nor does anything prohibit discussions related to current events including, but not limited to: the Black Lives Matter movement, efforts to promote equality and inclusion, or other contemporary events that impact certain identified groups,” the legal advice from the Attorney General states. 

Instead, the law prohibits students being taught that “a person, because of their membership in one or more identified group(s), is inherently either: (1) racist, sexist, or oppressive, consciously or unconsciously or (2) superior or inferior to people of another identified group.”

Ammon said the lawsuit, like the error-filled lawsuit filed last week by New Hampshire’s American Federation of Teachers, is simply a fundraising stunt by the unions and the ACLU.

“They are using it to fundraise off their woke base,” Ammon said. “This how far the ACLU has fallen, they are challenging an anti-discrimination law in federal court.”

The lawsuit lists Andres Mejia as one of the plaintiffs. Mejia is director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice for the Exeter Region Cooperative School District, the school district where a Catholic student was punished for expressing tenets of his faith to another student outside the school’s purview.

“This law chills the very type of diversity, equity, and inclusion work that is absolutely necessary to ensure that each student is seen, heard, and connected, especially as New Hampshire becomes more diverse,” Mejia said in a statement.

The Catholic student and his family are suing the Exeter district, though without any help from New Hampshire’s ACLU. Bissonnette did not respond to a question on Monday as to why the American Civil Liberties Union would not defend a student punished for expressing his faith. 

Mejia is also a board member of Black Lives Matter Seacoast, a group that demands the removal of police officers from schools. 

Ammon says he does not think the lawsuit will succeed but does think New Hampshire taxpayers will still lose.

“We have to pay to defend the state in court against their lame allegations,” Ammon said.

Sununu Responds to BLM Demands: ‘Further Discussion Is Merited’

After days of complaints from Black Lives Matter activists over his lack of response — including a #WheresChris? hashtag — Gov. Chris Sununu sent the BLM organizations of Nashua and Manchester a letter Tuesday addressing their recently-released list of demands for policing and criminal justice reform.

His message: “Further discussion is merited.”

Sununu is the last of the 2020 gubernatorial candidates to respond to the group’s demands, released Friday evening just hours before a Black Lives Matter Day of Action in Concord. Both Democrats, state Sen. Dan Feltes and Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, endorsed the BLM demands in their entirety within a day of their release. Even the obscure Libertarian candidate, Darryl Perry, largely endorsed their proposals.

Sununu’s response was more circumspect.

“We are reviewing the action items you put forward – several of which I support, several of which the newly-established Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community, and Transparency will undertake over the next 45 days, and others which further discussion is merited,” Sununu wrote.

“Promoting social justice and racial equality in New Hampshire has been, and continues to be, a top priority of my administration,” he added, a theme he reiterated during Tuesday’s COVID-19 press briefing.

“The vast majority of things on that list are things we’ve done or are in the process of doing,” Sununu said. “When I took office, we didn’t even have a Civil Rights Unit in the state.  Not Governor Hassan, not Governor Lynch. Those Democrat governors, they didn’t do it — we did.”

The same on decriminalization of marijuana, Sununu said, another issue addressed by Black Lives Matter. “Governors Lynch and Hassan, they absolutely refused to de-criminalize [marijuana]. That’s one of the first things I did.”

Joanna Kelley, a Portsmouth, NH business owner and activist, told NHJournal she read the letter and was less than impressed.

“His answer was more about himself and what he says he’s accomplished than about the goals of the movement,” Kelley said. “It sounded more like placating than a commitment to progress.”

Her fellow BLM supporters apparently feel the same way. BLM Nashua has launched a petition drive calling on Sununu to “Commit to NH BLM’s Racial Justice Demands.”

“While we appreciate Governor Sununu’s willingness to acknowledge our demands, we have asked for substantive responses to each of them, and neither his letter nor his statement adequately met that criteria,” BLM Nashua said.

“Black and brown Americans deserve better than lip service and empty gestures of solidarity from our elected officials. We deserve justice. We need action now.”

Sununu stands by his record.

“For decades, prior administrations failed to act,” Sununu said Monday. “I am proud to say we have moved the ball forward these past few years, but there is still more work to do.”

“I’ll put my record up against anybody’s.”

Feltes, Volinsky Agree to Meet BLM Demands on Police Reform, While Sununu Remains Silent

It took less than 24 hours for the two Democrats vying to take on Gov. Chris Sununu to agree to Black Lives Matter’s demands on police reform and criminal justice. That list includes prisoner releases, expunging criminal records and closing the demographic gap on race and incarceration.

A day after Black Lives Matter Nashua, and its sister organization in Manchester released, their “set of 7 demands aimed at Governor Sununu, state Sen. Dan Feltes and Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky,” the two Democrats on the list had already tweeted out their support.

“Whether subtle or overt, caught on tape or not, every day our Black brothers and sisters face words, actions, & policies that rob them of the American dream. These are important steps I support that will make a real difference right now. Thank you for your activism and advocacy,” Feltes tweeted.

He followed up the next day with a pledge to “establish a new racial equity office to begin addressing injustice and ensuring representation in our state government. There are many steps we must take to address systemic racism, and this is just a start.”

Volinsky, still dealing with the fallout of his treatment of two African-American nominees to state boards that BLM members have described as “racist,” was even more aggressive. After quickly tweeting out his endorsement of the list, Volinsky followed up with a lengthy statement embracing the demands and expanding on them.

 

(Credit: Tony Pica)

 

“Despite our reputation as a state with little diversity, we are blind if we don’t understand that New Hampshire has many of the same problems and afflictions that plague other states with larger Black and Brown populations: police violence, discrimination in the workplace, over-incarceration, disproportionate health outcomes, including those resulting from the impact of COVID-19, housing discrimination, underfunded public schools, and a societal burden from hundreds of years of systemic racism that invariably alters the day-to-day life of Black and Brown Granite Staters,” Volinsky wrote.

Volinsky pointed out that “as an Executive Councilor, I have repeatedly led the effort to offer pardon hearings to applicants,” part of his support for both releasing all non-violent cannabis offenders (including large-scale dealers) and expounding their records.

“I often have been rebuked in this effort by the governor, by other Councilors and by interest groups, but it was the right thing to do and I shall continue to seek relief for incarcerated persons.”

Releasing prisoners early and letting drug dealers re-enter society with no record of their crimes may be politically popular among Democratic primary voters, but thus far Republican Chris Sununu hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon. As of Monday night, he had not responded to BLM’s demands, a fact the organization has noted.

Sununu was a no-show at Saturday’s BLM “Day of Action” event in Concord, inspiring chants of “Where’s Chris?” from the crowd. On Twitter Monday, BLM Nashua wrote:

 

Sununu’s office declined requests for comment from NHJournal. However, on June 9 Sununu told NHJournal he rejected the charge New Hampshire police suffer from “systemic racism.”

“We talk about implicit bias. We talk about the idea of making sure that all the law enforcement communities across the state understand those issues in terms of how to deal with them,” Sununu acknowledged, but added, “Do we have systematic racism throughout our law enforcement community here in New Hampshire? No.”

Republican state Rep. Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton), a 10-year law enforcement veteran, defended Sununu’s record on police reform and racial justice issues.

“Back in 2017, long before the current movement, he formed the Civil Rights Unit in the state Department of Justice,” Lang told NHJournal. “He formed the Commission on Law Enforcement weeks ago, with a tight timeline to actually take action. They talk about a Civilian Oversight Board, well, we’ve got civilians on the Police Standards and Training Council already.”

As for the BLM’s demands: “Hostage takers make demands. Reasonable people talk,” Lang says. “Our Governor is way ahead of those guys, and they are just playing catch-up.”