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Colleagues criticize Vermont lawmaker’s comments on race

MONTPELIER — A Vermont lawmaker is under fire from some of his colleagues for comments that some of them deemed racially insensitive.

Representative Douglas Gage, a Rutland Republican, speaking during floor debate Thursday on a measure to expand police training against racial profiling, told his colleagues of a conversation he had had with a neighbor ‘‘of color’’ who came to him with a complaint.

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‘‘The complaint was that other people in the Rutland area of color he wished would go back home,’’ Gage said. ‘‘He was upset with them. He said many of them were drug dealers. This is his words, not mine. He said they’re couch surfers. They lived with, he used the word ‘white girls.’ Many of them are drug dealers. ‘They are giving me a bad reputation.’ This was his complaint to me.’’

Gage, who told fellow lawmakers that the man had lived in his neighborhood ‘‘for 30 to 35 years, most of his entire life,’’ said in a later interview he could not remember the man’s name.

During the debate, supporters of the bill said Vermont needed to address the fact that half of 1 percent of its population is made up of black men while that group is 13 percent of its prison population.

Gage voted for the bill in a House roll call. But some of his colleagues expressed shock at his comments.

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