Updated Aug. 3
The Chilmark select board held an emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon to strongly admonish an incident that occurred at a summer camp at the Chilmark Community Center.
In an email blast sent out Monday morning to members of the camp community, Jeff Herman, president of the Chilmark Town Affairs Council (which oversees the camp), informed them about an apparent racial incident that occurred on Thursday, July 29, in which “two white boys aged 8 and 9 placed a strap from one of the tents around the neck of an 8 year old African-American boy in their group.”
Both the camp and the Martha’s Vineyard Chapter of the NAACP are investigating the incident.
Messages left for Herman and vice president and treasurer of the council, Betty Frank-Bailey, were not returned over the past two days. At the community center on Tuesday, there were several young adults outside of an office, at a folding table, who took a reporter’s number.
On Tuesday the Chilmark select board held an emergency meeting to approve and issue a statement about the incident, which occurred inside the town-owned community center.
During the meeting, select board member Warren Doty read a statement that the board approved in a 2-0 vote for dissemination. Board chair James Malkin was not in attendance. “As a community we abhor violence or discrimination of any kind,” Doty said. “We are deeply troubled by the incident involving children ages 8 and 9 which occurred on July 29 at the summer camp run by the Chilmark community center, a private 501 (c)(3) on town-owned land.”
Doty said that the community center is undertaking an investigation, and “based on their long history of running a successful summer program, we have confidence that the investigation will be thorough and fair.”
Until the investigation is complete, Doty said the select board is not in a position to assess whether the incident was a “safe play” issue or a racial issue.
Either way, the statement denounces the incident as unacceptable behavior.
“The town will respond appropriately once we review the results of the investigation,” Doty said.
People were outside the camp on Tuesday morning holding signs in response to the incident, Chilmark town administrator Tim Carroll told The Times.
Jane Slater, chair of Chilmark’s historic commission and a member of the parks and recreation committee, was one of three people with signs, she told The Times.
Slater, who is 89, was joined by Jane Neuman and Diane Smith.
“We’re just three old ladies from Chilmark who got upset over what’s going on,” Slater said.
Slater said her sign read: “Close the CCC now”
Slater described the sign as a call for accountability, which she said was lacking.
“We read Jeff Herman’s letter and that’s what put us over the edge,” Slater said.
Among other things, Slater said she didn’t understand why information was not provided to the town “quicker” with “clearer” details.
The email signed by Herman on Monday states: “Although there was an abrasion on the boy’s neck left from the strap, thankfully the child was otherwise physically unharmed. That said, we are keenly aware that this event was traumatic.”
Herman wrote that such behavior will not be tolerated at the community center, and the council will take immediate action to investigate the incident and prevent similar incidents from happening. No additional details are provided in the statement, although Herman wrote that more information will be available later this month. Herman was not immediately available for comment.
“Let me reiterate — we remain committed to providing a safe and nurturing environment for all of your children,” the statement reads.
After The Times alerted the MVNAACP of the incident, chapter president Arthur Hardy-Doubleday sent a statement saying that he is going to have their legal redress committee launch an immediate investigation. “This event reminds us that while the Island may have a reputation as a racial utopia, we are far from it. Incidents like this cannot be ignored,” Hardy-Doubleday wrote. “Pending the result of the investigation, I would ask the children and their parents to be held accountable for this reprehensible event.”
In light of the incident, the MVNAACP is inviting the town of Chilmark to a dialogue to prevent future occurrences.
“I will have further comments pending the NAACP’s investigation,” Hardy-Doubleday wrote.
Chilmark Police Chief Jonathan Klaren said police have documented the incident, but have not yet launched any criminal investigation. “We are offering our assistance to the family of the alleged victim,” Klaren said.
Two concerned Chilmark parents who wished to remain anonymous reached out to The Times to say they were shocked and saddened to hear of the incident. “This could happen anywhere, but to see it so close to home was absolutely shocking. Everyone in the school community is very disheartened,” one of the parents said. The other parent noted that the camp is still in session at the community center, which she said is disturbing. “I think it sends a bad message, like ‘it happened but we are just going to move forward.’ I think the camp should be closed,” the parent said.
Updated to include statement issued by Chilmark select board. Reporter Rich Saltzberg contributed to this story.