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‘An empty apology:’ BIPOC activists call for further accountability for Klein-Knight

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NHPR file
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A white Manchester state lawmaker who used a racist slur at the State House against a young Black political activist has issued an apology. But the controversy surrounding Democrat Nicole Klein Knight’s conduct isn't going away.

Klein-Knight has been removed from her committee post by House Speaker Sherman Packard, faced resignation calls, and may yet be censured by the Legislative Ethics Committee after a group of BIPOC activists called for the House to hold Klein-Knight, who has previously positioned herself as a progressive voice, accountable.

"A genuine apology must communicate sincere empathy, remorse and a promise to learn from the mistake. Someone who is truly apologetic does not scorn or blame those they hurt," the same group of BIPOC organizers wrote in a statement after Klein Knight's apology was issued.

"We send this statement to make it clear that Rep. Klein Knight has not made things right. This situation has only revealed the depths of racism in the NH state house (sic), and on all sides of the aisle."

The situation stems from an incident in January where she repeatedly used a racist slur during a confrontation with Jonah Wheeler, 18, who lives in Peterborough and sits on the board of the progressive group Rights and Democracy.

The original letter from the BIPOC activists detailed Klein-Knight’s interaction with Wheeler, which included an attempt by her to involve State House security, and said her behavior had been an issue among Democrats for months.

Wheeler himself describes what happened between him and Klein-Knight "one unfortunate incident," but says Klein-Knight's apology, which she issued Tuesday and began by noting "it was wrong for me to use the racist slur that you said,” fell short.

"Something needs to be addressed,” Wheeler said outside the House’s meeting in Manchester Wednesday. Wheeler said he’d been approached by Democrats and Republicans in the House about the incident.

“I've heard support from State Reps on both sides who've seen me testify,” he said. “ [Lawmakers] have come up to me and been, like, "I'm sorry that happened to you, and I hope you don't think that's the whole House, and I'm like no, I don't think it reflects the whole House."

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and political activists have frequently taken to social media over the incident, with a few Democratic lawmakers defending Klein-Knight as having herself been a victim of bias.

The House’s top Democrat, Minority Leader Renny Cushing has meanwhile called Klein-Knight's behavior “completely irreconcilable with legislating.”

Wheeler says he made a complaint about Klein-Knight to the Legislative Ethics committee, which can recommend the full Legislature censure or remove lawmakers.

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