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Claremont Police Still Mum About Boy’s Injuries

  • An 8-year-old Claremont, N.H., resident suffered rope burns after an Aug. 28, 2017, incident involving teenagers. The incident is under investigation. (Courtesy photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, September 08, 2017

Claremont — Activists and community members in Claremont are calling on police to provide more information after allegations that a young boy was injured late last month in a racially motivated incident.

The family of an 8-year-old biracial boy said he was taunted with racial epithets by a group of young teenagers and then intentionally pushed off a picnic table with a rope around his neck in the backyard of a home near Barnes Park.

Ten days after the incident, aside from confirming an ongoing investigation, police have refused to release any details about the case, citing the confidentiality that protects juvenile proceedings.

But Twin State activists involved with racial justice issues said that by not offering any information about the case, officials could be stifling an important community conversation about racism.

“Folks don’t just deserve to be informed about what’s going on; it is imperative that we disseminate this information,” said Mark Hughes, the co-founder and executive director for Justice for All, a Vermont-based group for racial justice. “Because to not do this feeds into the problem.”

Hughes noted that while the incident occurred on Aug. 28, it took more than a week for it to become public, and that was only because of a widely shared Facebook post by the boy’s mother.

“I am upset and saddened and angered about how the police and city officials have chosen to play this,” said Kendra Colburn, of Strafford, a member of the Upper Valley chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice. “(They) all seem like they do not want media attention on this story, and I am concerned about that. I am really concerned that we can’t change what we don’t know about or refuse to look at.”

As he has done repeatedly, Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase on Thursday declined to comment on the case, citing confidentiality laws that protect juveniles.

Chase has confirmed that there was an incident involving juveniles on Aug. 28 that remains under investigation.

In an interview on Thursday, he acknowledged that he has received several inquiries from people both in and out of Claremont, and though he is constrained on what he can say, he said he has reassured each person that the police department is committed to getting to the bottom of all complaints it receives.

For good reasons, Chase said, criminal investigations involving juveniles are kept confidential.

“Mistakes they make as a young child should not have to follow them for the rest of their life,” Chase said.

City Manager Ryan McNutt also declined to comment for the same reason. He asked the public to let the investigation play out.

“It was an unfortunate incident between some juveniles,” McNutt said. “Folks should have confidence in the law enforcement investigation.”

McNutt warned that the city “may not be able to release any additional information about the case.”

Hughes, the activist, said there must be a way for police to provide the public with facts about the case without revealing the identities of the juveniles or violating confidentiality laws.

“It should go on the record that in 2017 this happened,” Hughes said. “It is very important, because if we pretend it didn’t happen, it will keep happening.”

In an interview earlier this week, the grandmother of the injured boy, Lorrie Slattery, spoke about what her family has learned about the incident that resulted in her grandson being airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center with cuts and rope burns on his neck. No adult is believed to have witnessed the incident, she said, and the boy’s family has pieced together details based on the accounts of children who were there.

Slattery said her grandson and a group of older children were in a backyard off North Street last Monday evening when the teens started taunting the boy with racial slurs and throwing sticks and rocks at his legs.

According to Slattery, the situation escalated when some or all of the teens got on a picnic table and grabbed a nearby rope that had held a tire swing.

It isn’t clear how the rope ended up around the boy’s neck, but Slattery said he was subsequently pushed off the table, resulting in injuries to his neck. She said this wasn’t the first time the teens have used racial epithets against the boy.

The boy’s wounds are healing and he is still in school, Slattery said on Thursday, but the family is still waiting for more information from the police.

Among those who saw the mother’s Facebook post about the incident was Olivia Lapierre, a member of Hartford’s Committee on Racial Inequality, which was formed this year after a Selectboard member distributed an offensive email about former President Barack Obama.

“I am not very shocked that (the incident) happened. I am not shocked that it is in our community and I am certainly not shocked that public officials haven’t done anything,” Lapierre said. “It’s more disturbing … and disheartening than anything.”

It seems clear that the boy was part of a “potentially racially charged” situation, Lapierre said, and she’s concerned that law enforcement won’t do its due diligence, and that the young boy won’t receive the community support he needs to heal and feel safe moving forward.

She said that instead of downplaying the incident, the community should reach out to see how to best support him and his family.

The city, she said, should acknowledge the incident happened and attempt to address the problem of racism through dialogue in the community, among other things.

Like the rest of the region, Claremont’s population is overwhelmingly white. Its 13,000 residents were 96 percent white, according to the 2010 Census. Only 0.6 percent of residents were African-American, and 1.8 percent were listed as biracial.

Fran Brokaw, another member of Showing Up for Racial Justice, said she was less concerned about the specific facts of the Claremont incident and more concerned about “systemic racism” that condones it.

“I would hope that the community in Claremont would see this as an opportunity to begin some really potentially uncomfortable conversations about realities of race and racism,” said Brokaw, a retired Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center physician. “Those are conversations that are really important to have. My hope is that this is a wake-up call.”

Several people in Claremont who spoke to a reporter on Thursday said they had heard about the boy’s injuries in some way, shape or form.

Claremont Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin called the incident “troubling.” He said he would wait until the police investigation concludes and then decide how schools might respond.

Resident Sharlene DeCook, a waitress at Daddypops Tumble Inn Diner, said it was a “shame” to hear about allegations of a group of white children harassing a black child because of his race.

“It’s so antique,” DeCook said. “It is something you read about in history books.”

A cook at the diner, James Muskelly, who is biracial, said he heard talk about the incident but that he wasn’t privy to enough information to comment on it. He said he didn’t feel any less safe in his community because of it.

The 39-year-old Muskelly grew up in Claremont and graduated from Stevens High School. He said he knows there are people with racist beliefs in the city — he has had the N-word said in front of him while at work on Martin Luther King Day — but more often than not “people keep it under lock and key.”

“I let a lot roll off,” he said.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.