NAACP: Strap incident was ‘racially insensitive’

Chapter says investigation was thwarted by lack of cooperation; seeks meeting with select board.

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The Martha's Vineyard NAACP could find no racial motivation for an incident at a Chilmark summer camp, but say their investigation wasn't complete because they didn't have access to witnesses. -Rich Saltzberg

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. 

32 COMMENTS

  1. So the report basically states that the kids had no idea that what they were doing was intentionally racist but there are others who might perceive it as such. So what actually occurred is in no way as important as what the race baiting adults wanted to make it out to be.

  2. Not this again– Give it a break .
    Even people who are not racist are tired of hearing about this horse being flogged.

  3. Objective: 3 kids had an exchange. 1 had a rope around his neck placed by the other to.
    Subjective: seems racially insensitive based on past history.

    Objective/Subjective: kids playing without knowing that what they may be doing is racially insensitive.

    Subjective/Objective: Adults see this as racially insensitive. So it must be.

    Conclusion subjectively: How one perceives an objective without it being identified blatantly as such, should not concluded that it is. Assumptions are exactly what leads humanity into divided and self destruction.

    We are all human. Let us not forget.

  4. “Let’s just move on” is how we never actually address racism and bullying. A Black child was physically assaulted and traumatized by a couple of white boys who had been bullying him over the prior week. Why did they target him specifically? I dont think its a leap to assume that race was a factor. And given one of the white boys parents defensive and arrogant response to the incident, I’d say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. While the boys clearly are too young to have developed an understanding of the larger issues of systemic racism (many adults don’t even acknowledge this), its usually the kid that’s “different” that becomes a target of bullies. Whether its race, physical disability, physical appearance- bullies will target someone they perceive as “weak” and “vulnerable” to victimize. And yes, it starts early and, I believe, is learned behavior. Was this a case of “racism”? I dont know. But in my humble opinion, race was a factor and “moving on” before there’s accountability and a plan of action to prevent future incidents is irresponsible.

  5. Regardless of what anyone thinks or is willing to accept about motives, this incident remains objectively important because of how dangerous and traumatic it was. Some will trip over themselves to dismiss its seriousness without stopping to consider the degree of physical threat, and that’s completely irresponsible. Don’t brush off violence and targeted bullying. This would be a crime for good reason if they were any older. There is likely not a single person on here who would allow strangers to tie them up by the neck and abrade their skin without going to the police. That’s why I find it disingenuous that some claim this was no big deal. Why should a child receive less support than an adult? Don’t expect kids to tolerate treatment you’d never excuse if it happened to you. A nine-year-old knows this was intimidating and scary to do to another. That was obviously the point. This wasn’t a friendly game.

  6. YOU were not there! How do you know? If these children were not racist then, they are now! Great work adults! I believe it was the late David Bowie who said, and I quote, “let the children play”.

    • How do we know what? That it wasn’t play? Because every person involved, most importantly the victim, said as much. Even the police.

      He was kicked, shoved, insulted, and tied up by the same kids. He asked for them to be kept away from him. That’s not a normal, friendly interaction. Give me a break.

      Yes, of course let kids have fun. This is not fun. Abuse isn’t play. Maybe look to the facts instead of a deceased musician (who was far too cool to want his words misused like this anyway.)

      • My sleepy brain upon waking up an hour later: Wait, was he talking about the Santana song? I retract the coolness comment if so.

        But seriously. Read the other articles here that describe the interactions between the kids. It becomes clear from everyone involved that this was not innocent or kind play. Some wanted to give those responsible the benefit of that doubt initially. Now we all know the facts and it’s absurd to write them off or minimize this. It was cruel and the camp needs better supervision and policies. It should not be so hard for everyone to admit this. That it is speaks volumes.

  7. Thank you, Carla and Katie. One must be pretty white and pretty privileged to blind oneself to the systemic racism in comments that so nonchalantly dismiss the trauma to a young (Black) child and his family in an obvious racially tinged episode. Further, it is a gross misreading of the previous (unsigned) report AND these new statements from the Chapter that clearly state that witnesses, and therefore information, were withheld. To think that “unable to come to a conclusion” is a conclusion, is the same as deciding it’s over for you because you are tired of hearing it. It is not over. It reminds me of people being “over” covid restrictions. We know where that gets us.

    It’s weird to me that the father of one of the bullies had no problem going to this newspaper to arrogantly but anonymously whine, blame, and play victim himself, with zero regard for the physical and mental injuries to the actual victim, but then refused to allow any questioning or investigation of his bully son. This is how bullies behave: whine and moan and groan about how unfairly they’re being treated, but run away like the cowards they are when it comes time to answer the pertinent questions.

    By failing to demand answers from all the witnesses, and ignoring that we have no answers, we promote the systemic racism within our white community that is saying, “I’m over it”. The same is true when we fail to stick to masking up and getting vaccinated– we give covid the upper hand, like we are giving the systemic racism– so obvious in some of these comments– the upper and final hand. Avoidance of reality never helps anyone. Neither does pretending you have the answers when the damn questions have never even been allowed to be asked.

    Can the Times give us a link to this newest report?

  8. Problem is the confusion about the nature of man. Most people would say man is basically good–there are a few bad apples but man by nature is good even though they can look around the world and see the destruction and death and evil visited upon society by man. When one says man is depraved and has a sin nature, the secularists come out of the woodwork and protest that is too extreme. Then they say children are innocent and are not little sinners at an early age when they throw tantrums and fight with their siblings and break furniture and have hissy fits even though parents didnt teach them to do that–they do it by nature. Now we label these kids as racists because we are in the ”racist genre” but if they did the same to a white kid there would be little comment. If we simply believed that man is wretched and in need of a savior we wouldnt be having these discussions.

    • ENGELMAN, the Proud Boys, white suprematists, and neo-Nazis are all Christian-based people who buy what you’re inappropriately proselytizing in your comments, which I find not just inappropriate and an abuse of what the MV Times offers the public in this comment feature, but your views remain disrespectful, offensively anti-Semitic, and anti all good people who will never be Christian. Try to stick to the topic. Read the linked report here from the MV Chapter of the NAACP and then tell the victim and his family it had nothing to do with race.

      The large, long, wide, heavy rope with metal attached, always referred to as a tent “strap” is pictured in the report. Take a look. It was used to tie up the child, securing his arms and tying him to a pole. The victim had difficulty escaping from the rope which was not “only” around his neck, as if around the neck wasn’t bad enough. When you see the weapon that was used to traumatize and injure this child, there is no question this not children playing.

    • Andrew, I am highly cynical about the nature of people. Selfishness and cruelty manage to surface far too often. It’s true that I don’t have any religious views to explain this. Just frequent, unwanted observations that have increased by leaps and bounds as of late.

      I find kids are as varied, perhaps more varied, than adults. Some are innocence personified and open to everyone. They display no signs of a prejudicial lens. I certainly wouldn’t say all kids are racist, but others are capable of it, just like they’re capable of many forms of discrimination. I doubt it would’ve been quite as controversial if, as was mentioned earlier, this incident had suggested that kids target their peers over appearance, physical abilities, money, etc. Any number of things. We know many can be mean. It’s a childhood cliché.

      Why, then, would race be the lone exception when it comes to age-old bullying?

      The reality is that no one knows what the motivation was here. We have only the word of children (and an unsigned report…) who showed they possess exceptionally poor judgment. That’s putting it mildly. But we DO know for a fact that one boy was singled out on multiple occasions, then injured. Of course adults will question why. Say it was racist. Do you think those responsible—or their parents—are going to admit it? Knowing they’re already in the hot seat? I don’t. Kids often lie, especially those with demonstrably bad behavior. Children can be more clever and self-preserving than anyone is acknowledging.

      Say it wasn’t racist. Okay. In that event, the central act of violence stands. Are we really dismissing harm of this magnitude because it may have “only” been driven by sheer nastiness? That’s crazy. Either way, this is an issue worthy of solutions to prevent repeats. It warrants empathy. I have written and deleted a few posts about race for fear they would invite more snide criticism of this boy and his family. How backwards is that? The group usually rallies for all sorts of hardships, as we should, yet the same compassion has been conspicuously absent here. Why?

      I was surprised that some don’t believe kids can be racist because I saw it early on in life. I attended two schools while living in a city that participated in busing. There, it wasn’t angrily contested by parents like it had been years prior in Boston, and yet local students, nearly all white, were plain in their ignoring and mocking of Black program participants. There was zero attempt at camaraderie.

      Public discussions about race may be popular right now, but the problem itself isn’t remotely new or trendy. It went unaddressed forever. It’s unfair to assume commenters are basing our perspectives on a media-fed party line. Some have witnessed or experienced racist behavior in real time. I didn’t need any politician’s blessing in 2020 to become aware of an issue that’s always saddened me.

      I vehemently disagree about what would be said here if a white child were attacked. My reaction would be consistent. Of course NO child should ever be subjected to abuse. The calls for anti-bullying policy will protect everyone except aggressors. That said, it remains that this happened to a Black boy. We are going to examine it based on what *is*, not on what could be, and express greater concern for the actual victim over an imagined one. That is just practical.

      I have been thinking a lot about how these comments would read if two Black kids assaulted a white kid. There would be absolutely no jumping through hoops necessary to convince anyone of their guilt or that children are capable of being malicious. No one would say, “Ah well, at least we learned something!” or “They were only playing!”

      It would be viewed as an enraging tragedy because many readily accept Black boys as violent in any given scenario. Even when untrue.

      Even when they’ve been objectively hurt and done nothing wrong.

      • Ms Lane, I agree with much of what you wrote. I am simply suggesting that I believe man by nature is not good but depraved and we see empirical evidence of this everywhere we look and have for centuries. Mankind is capable of the most evil things. I simply dont agree with labelling cruelty as racist or hate crime or hate speech. No cruelty or violence is motivated by love. I do believe that most children look at their peers through a prism of color blindness and are not inherently racist. I do not know what this incident was but am slow to label it as anything other than dumb foolishness by kids that dont know better.

    • Read the reports and get back to us before you decide the reality of this case has no merit. If you’ve not informed yourself of the available info, noting what is being hidden and covered up, your opinion, based on a white bias and NOT available evidence and witnesses, this is why we need better education about our culturally systemic racist society which is, as an example, so present in these comments.
      Dismissing information that you are not familiar with is not an intelligent way to put down the work of the NAACP. Your offensive remark about a way to find “something to do” is sadly ignorant. It is you who did not bother to look at the work done, but found something racially dismissive and offensive to say anyway.

  9. Andy– nice to know that not a single born again evangelical christian has never had a racist thought, let alone act on it.
    You don’t need to convince me that some men , and even some women are in fact wretched.
    Got a point with this comment ?

  10. Growing up as a (Black) kid, I learned all about bullying. The kid who was bullied for a week in this case had his perceptions about his equality forever shattered. It doesn’t matter about the intent, since in today’s environment with blatant racism right out there in the open, the affect is obvious. An informed 9 year old should easily make the connection to lynching.

  11. The Black,Indigenous and People of Color
    ( BIPOC) are the ONLY voices the should be heard here . The proclaimed exhaustion that some folks feel about this story is in itself telling . This hurtful event should have been handled with sensitivity’s, speed and could have been a new chapter in learning , reparation and healing . But the white people in charge did not realize their privledge and their bias to “ rough play “.
    Kids are bullied everyday and there are laws and protocols in public schools and sports.
    The grey area of a summer camp was just that . There are no mandates per say. We can only be hopeful that by accepting children in your care , that protocols and best practice have been thought out . Because the people in charge ( white) in our great nation have kept denying the conversation about racism in every thread of our society , we are at a boiling point . The cover is off . We will never go back to this inability to uncover every racist action .
    To do nothing IS racist Had action happened at this summer camp IMMEDIATELY, ( a day of training ,etc) regardless of the EXACT details of this incident involving minors – maybe all the whining , white folks could have been spared the longevity of this reporting .

  12. I want all voices to be heard because that makes the case most vividly for why American history should be taught truthfully and in its entirety; the good the bad and the ugly starting early in a child’s education.

  13. Ms Hall, actually it is good advice.
    Ephesians 6:4 ”Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath; instead, bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.”

    • Andrew, I’m all for the discipline aspect. Just… Robert’s wording sounded very tail-wag-dog-ish. I’m really, really not a fan of that. It creates these situations rather than preventing them. Kids can’t be shot callers while misbehaving.

      I totally agree that children need to play. That’s actually what this discussion about change is, in part, designed to protect. Their ability to play safely and innocently like they deserve without having a fun summer ruined by profound mistreatment. It is too late for that for one little boy.

      I think some will still try to imply that the incident itself was “play” no matter what we learn. I just read the new report after seeing Jackie’s comment about the strap. The event does seem far worse with each previously unknown detail that comes to light. There are notable differences between what the NAACP reported and what Chilmark had to say. I can absolutely see why they wanted to investigate further. Kids can indeed do stupid, thoughtless things without ill intent, but this goes way above and behind those scenarios. This is disturbing.

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