The Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) voted Saturday morning to formally acknowledge the belief that the town of Chilmark bears responsibility for a summer incident where a Black child had a strap placed around his neck by two white children.
The incident took place on July 29 at a summer camp held at the Chilmark Community Center, a piece of property owned by Chilmark and run by the Chilmark Town Affairs Council, a nonprofit. At the meeting, the NAACP released a 129-page report on the incident.
Chapter president Arthur Hardy-Doubleday told chapter members racial motivation for such an incident requires intent, and the committee did not conclude the child perpetrators had intent.
“Here we have an 8-year-old victim and 8- and 9-year-old aggressors,” Hardy-Doubleday said. “While the committee understands that an 8- and a 9-yea-old can have the prerequisite of intent, we were unable to find that these 8- and 9-year-olds had that intent, in part due to the information available to us. We were not able to speak to the parents of the 8- and 9-year-old that were responsible for strapping this rope around the victim’s neck. We were not able to speak to the employees of the Chilmark Town Affairs Council who had direct supervision over these children. The Chilmark Town Affairs Council cited that they were unable to produce these employees, because these employees at the time were 17 years old, and therefore are minors.”
Hardy-Doubleday expressed frustration at the lack of witness access provided to the chapter.
“The only people that Chilmark Town Affairs Council has put forward for us to talk to are a team of attorneys and public relations specialists,” Hardy-Doubleday said. He discounted the value of those people to the committee’s investigation.
“So what are we really going to get out of a conversation with people who are trained to wordsmith?” he said. He added the investigative work took a toll, describing it as “some of the most stressful work I have done as a member of this branch.”
Hardy-Doubleday said the investigatory committee was able to meet with the parents, grandparents, and an uncle of the victim. The committee examined records, including a Chilmark Police report.
“What we did find is that this event was racially insensitive,” Hardy-Doubleday said. “For an event to be a racially insensitive event, one does not require the intent, but it’s the appearance — how is it perceived — and to have a young man have a strap wrapped around his neck while in the setting of a camp is racially insensitive. Especially him being in a predominantly white setting, and one of maybe two children of color that were at the camp during that week.”
Hardy-Doubleday said bullying of the victim, which appeared to have been going on for a week, was a key factor. He said a major recommendation stemming from the racial insensitiveness finding is that the Chilmark Town Affairs Council should adopt rules and policies that reflect Massachusetts anti-bullying and anti-harassment law; specifically, that the camp adopts the same law on the books for schools regarding bullying and harassment. Also recommended are adoption of best practices and a review by an outside consultant with an eye toward significant structural changes within the Chilmark Town Affairs Council and at the summer camp.
Paddy Moore told the chapter the buck doesn’t stop with the Chilmark Town Affairs Council, in her opinion. “I think the town itself needs to be held responsible,” Moore said.
Hardy-Doubleday agreed. “I do think that we need to go to the source, the root source of the power here, which is the town,” he said.
Moore outlined the scope of the chapter vote: “We believe that the town is ultimately responsible. We would like to share our report with the town at an official board meeting. And would like to ask them to follow up for next year’s planning to make sure these recommendations are put in place.”
On Monday, select board chair Jim Malkin said that to the best of his knowledge the select board hasn’t received a meeting request by the NAACP. Should such a request come, Malkin said, it will be granted.