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.