Our Opinion: Not just play: 'Lynching' in Claremont should be treated seriously

People in the Connecticut River Valley town of Claremont, N.H., are struggling to understand an incident in which an 8-year-old biracial boy was hung from a tree on Aug. 28.

Fortunately, the boy wasn't seriously hurt, but there are currently no answers as to how backyard play among children turned almost fatal. Despite repeated requests from the media, the Claremont Police Department has refused to provide details, though Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase told the Valley News the incident involves several juveniles. He also refused to tell the Valley News if pictures of the boy's injuries, posted to Facebook by the boy's mother, were accurate, citing laws that protect the identities of juveniles.

"It remains under investigation," he said.

Chase told the Valley News his department takes seriously and investigates any crimes that are perceived to be motivated out of racism or other forms of bigotry. Chase also said that the kids being investigated should be protected. "Mistakes they make as a young child should not have to follow them for the rest of their life," he said.

The boy's grandmother told the Valley News that teenagers who were involved or witnessed the event claimed the incident was an accident, a contention she doesn't believe.

The boy's grandmother told the Valley News the boy and his 11-year-old sister were playing with other children — there were no adults present — when the teens started calling the little boy "racial epithets" and throwing sticks and rocks at his legs.

Some or all of the teens allegedly stepped up on a picnic table and grabbed a nearby rope that had been part of a tire swing, the grandmother said.

"The (teenagers) said, `Look at this,' supposedly putting the rope around their necks," Slattery told the Valley News. "One boy said to (her grandson), `Let's do this,' and then pushed him off the picnic table and hung him."

The boy swung back and forth by his neck three times before he was able to remove the rope from his neck; Slattery said none of the teens came to his aid.

"If it was an accident, that boy or anybody there wouldn't have left him," she told the Valley News. "I believe it was intentional." She also told the Valley News that this wasn't the first time the neighborhood teenagers used racial slurs against the boy.

Despite not having all the details, there are some circumstances that are quite disturbing, writes Angela Helm for The Root, a social justice website, "[W]hen the U.S. president defends avowed white supremacists, one can't be surprised when bullying takes on a decidedly racist tone ... The climate has been set."

Helm was also concerned that the police chief wasn't being sensitive enough to the intricacies of the incident. "Notice how he called these predators 'young children,' infantilizing the white teens. Conversely, teens like Trayvon Martin are made out to be hulking, menacing adults. Chief Chase seems to be centering the perpetrators' feelings and futures, all but forgetting about the trauma of a little boy who had his so-called friends hang him from a tree to the point where he had to be medevaced to a hospital."

Kendra Colburn, of the Upper Valley chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, told the Valley News "I am upset and saddened and angered about how the police and city officials have chosen to play this. (They) all seem like they do not want media attention on this story, and I am concerned about that. I am really concerned that we can't change what we don't know about or refuse to look at."

Today there will be a prayer vigil organized by local faith communities at 5:20 p.m. at Broad Street Park in Claremont. We urge anyone concerned about this incident, whatever the circumstances, to attend and support the boy and his family and also send a message, loud and clear, that this type of "play" should not be tolerated.


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