Camp investigation: No motive in strap incident

CTAC review finds no ‘overt racial motivation’ in kids’ behavior.

An investigation found no evidence of overt racism in an incident involving two white boys putting a strap around the neck of a Black camper. — George Brennan

A report from the Chilmark Town Affairs Council (CTAC), the body that governs a summer camp at the Chilmark Community Center where two white boys are accused of wrapping a tent strap around the neck of a Black boy, didn’t find any clear evidence racism was at play. 

“Based on the interviews we have conducted and information we have collected, we have not found any evidence of overt racial motivation for the behavior of the 8- and 9-year-old boys that day,” the report, posted on the CTAC website Thursday night, states. “However, the act itself and the races of the three boys involved are significant. A strap around the neck of a Black child, one of the few children of color in the program, must raise the inevitable question of whether racism was involved in the incident. We cannot know what was in the minds of the children involved in this incident, and at this time it is not possible to determine conclusively whether underlying societal forces, including systemic racism and/or implicit bias, had an influence on this incident.”

The report states the information gleaned on the incident comes from interviews with the three boys themselves, all campers, who were described as not playing well together previously. The campers are described anonymously in the report as Camper A (the Black boy) and Campers Y and Z (the white boys directly related to the incident) and Camper X (a white boy indirectly related to the incident). 

The camp is protecting the identity of all individuals involved, including the camp counselors, because they are all minors.

“The incident took place at about 10:30 in the morning on Thursday, July 29, after snack,” the report states. “The two counselors responsible for Family Group 1 were seated at a table under their tent. Our understanding is that Camper A, the Black child, was by himself playing with a tent strap at one of the posts of the adjacent tent. Campers X, Y and Z were walking and talking together, but Camper X stopped at one of the tables and the other two continued on without him. Camper Y and Camper Z approached Camper A and joined him in playing with the strap. At some point, Camper Y took the strap and used it to tie up Camper A, wrapping it around his neck and around the tent pole. Camper A resisted, saying ‘no’ and/or ‘stop,’ but Camper Y continued. Camper Y was holding one end of the strap, Camper Z was standing there watching, but Camper A was able to break free. The entire incident happened quickly. After Camper A freed himself from the tent strap, he told one of the two counselors for his family group what had happened.”

The report doesn’t note any specific punishments or consequences for the two white boys. It is noted in the report that another kid may have witnessed the incident and referred to it as “racism,” but a “third party” who had relayed that information declined to provide access to the parents of that child. 

“We are therefore unable to confirm or provide details of what the child heard or observed,” the report states. 

The “next steps” outlined in the report are the formation of a subcommittee that will examine Chilmark Community Center operations “with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).”

The Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the NAACP continues to investigate the matter, according to its president, Arthur Hardy-Doubleday. 

“We’ve interviewed a few people,” Hardy-Doubleday said. “We still have a few people to go.”

Hardy-Doubleday said an analysis of the CTAC report will be a key part of the chapter’s investigation. The investigative body of the chapter, he said, is the legal redress committee. Once that committee concludes its investigation, it will make a recommendation to the chapter’s executive committee, which may or may not adopt the recommendation. If it does adopt the recommendation, the chapter’s membership as a whole would then be called on to take a vote, he said. 

The Chilmark Police produced a report on the incident that came to no conclusions, but chronicled anecdotes and accusations derived from a grandparent of the Black boy who was allegedly strapped. The report notes Chilmark Police received a photograph of a mark on the boy’s neck allegedly made by the strap.

Chilmark Police also spoke with Jeffrey Herman, CTAC president. “Herman stated the general facts of the incident are not in dispute,” the police report states.

A civil rights attorney for the family of the Black child hasn’t responded to a request for comment. 


  1. I don’t know that the word of a child who injuriously tied another child to a pole against the latter’s explicit will is something to base a finding on. Or take seriously in any capacity. This is real life, not Hollywood’s idea of a racist event where the hick trope stands up and announces, “Yeah, I done it. And I’d do it again!” before spelling out why.

    Is that what some are waiting for? Things aren’t that simple. We have to look at the incident itself. Every action is motivated by something. Most people, even kids, are smart enough to downplay their horrible behavior after the fact. And if someone unrelated to the incident was looking on and deemed it racist? I’d give that more consideration than the denial of the guilty parties.

    Either way, the treatment of another camper was disgusting and dangerous and warrants punishment. “Maybe they were just playing!” No. That much was clear from the beginning. Some in our community minimized this. I don’t believe for a second anyone would do so if their own kids came home with similar marks.

    I’m incredibly sorry a little boy and his family had to go through this. ❤️

  2. The campers must have been listening when our esteemed ex-President said, “if you see someone getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them.
    I will pay the legal bills.”
    Taking that to heart, Presidential immunity having been issued, the victim was set upon.
    Shame on those Vineyarders who voted for that plague on the nation.
    The plague arrived in the Chilmark Community Center.

  3. “…at this time it is not possible to determine conclusively whether underlying societal forces, including systemic racism or implicit bias had an influence on this incident”.

    Your headline is misleading. With the added information, what was obvious before is even more obvious now, including the unwillingness to say so. It was a racial incident.

    If you factor in the studies that confirm racial biases and behaviors are present in children even younger than 8 and 9, even if parents do not share or teach racist ideas, the actions of the two white boys against the Black boy they singled out and abused were based in age old racism against those who look different. The report is a shameful cop-out. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, looks like a duck…. Come on.

  4. Very unsatisfactory response. Horrid and unacceptable for injured child, and for reputation of community center and town of chilmark. Only when we call out obvious racism can we begin to re educate and heal.

  5. Does anyone on this site except Jackie believe that kids do dumb things with no racism in mind. You got a report and you still dismiss it. Racism under every bed is the hysterical narrative. Most kids are not racist. Adults can become racist under certain conditions but kids are not born racists and generally dont see color as a bias. These kids might have done the strap thing no matter what the color of the person was and it might have been done to them by a black kid. What nonsense.

    • And maybe it was racially motivated. By the age of 9, you’ve heard enough racist crap by your parents or on TV to form a racial bias. You seem to be unwilling to even entertain that possibility. Hmmm I wonder why.

    • Really, ENGELMAN? You are provided with a link that could educate you away from a stereotypical white ignorance about children and race, and yet without reading it, or apparently without even reading the article and what the report says, you still want to make utterly false statements, which are proven false, about children and race? Even this wishy-washy report cannot and does not conclude that this racial incident was not racist.

      • Jackie if the link you are talking about is the Washington Post, I wouldnt line the bottom of my bird cage with it nor any other link that you and Keller give me. I simply didnt jump to a conclusion and suggested it could have been dumb play. No False statements. You see the world in terms of exceptions, I do not. Most people in the US live their lives, dont commit crime, dont show any prejudice and try to exist in harmony with others. Most people. You see a racist under every bed yet slander me with the ”communist under every bed” cliche.

        • andy– It’s nice that you finally admit that you are not open to or have any respect for the opinions of others or the facts that are presented to you from verifiable and credible sources that do not fit your narrative.
          And just for the record, since you mentioned me, I do not think you see a communist under EVERY bed, but I do think you do see a transgender person in every public bathroom.. In fact– you probably do, ( HA! ) and you have no idea who was born with those x’s or y’s you cling to as defining someone elses’ gender identity.

    • You’re right about one thing, Andrew Engelman: kids aren’t born racist. Not long after birth, however, we do start picking up cues from the people around us. Of course we do: it’s a survival thing. It’s how we get our needs met and, a little later, learn to get along with others. In a society where race and color play a huge role, we *all* absorb plenty of information about how it works and where we fit in the hierarchy. For parents of color and the white parents of children of color, teaching their kids about this is essential: it gives the kids a better chance to survive in a world that *will* discriminate against them.

      The white parents of white children are under no such obligation. They may say nothing in the (mistaken) belief that this will help them become “colorblind.” But those white children inevitably pick up clues anyway, from their friends, from the media, and even from their families — who may or may not be aware of what the kids are overhearing and how they interpret it. I hope that those who investigated the incident are aware of this.

      • Ms Sturgis, most prejudice is not about color but about class as African tribalism proves big time. Slaves that were shipped to the USA and later when freed, returned to form the nation of Liberia and held slaves themselves and felt superior due to their Americo-Liberian heritage. That is only one example. There are many others. Any prejudices I have are ephemeral and non selective. I would love to have dinner with say, Ben Carson who is black but never with Hilary.

  6. If 8 and 9 year old boys do not listen to NO and STOP from someone they are abusing, AND are taught that no real consequences will come from the community that allowed this abuse to take place, imagine what these privileged white boys will be like as privileged white young men in 5-10 years.

  7. From the article, it doesn’t appear that Boy Z did anything wrong. So we are left with older Boy Y bullying younger Boy A for a very brief period of time, and solely because of the races of the participants, it is deemed to be a racist incident worthy of several investigative reports, newspaper articles and the involvement of the NAACP. What a crock.

  8. Do we have definitive proof this was racism? No, we don’t. Everyone is assuming they know what happened. Some are assuming it wasn’t racism. Some are assuming it was. Assuming is just that, an assumption. I was under the impression that an assumption is not enough to convict anyone. Should the boys be punished for what we are certain they did? Yes! I’m sure their parents will handle that. Or would you prefer the two boys be removed from the care of their parents? I doubt that. It’s over. Let a lesson be learned.

    • Here’s the lesson for all races, or one of them. When little white boys act out physical abuse on another person, after hearing the words STOP and NO, they can still grow up to be Supreme Court justices. No one wants to assume anything. Reality is reality, except when white privilege, systemic racism, and blatant racism call it “nonsense”.

  9. And, I can’t help but ask: what about the parental responsibility for the the violent bullying of their son?

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