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Jim Kenyon: Dueling efforts in Canaan address matters at hand

  • Rep. Tim Josephson, D- Canaan is amongst the Black Lives Matter supporters Clarence Arnold photographed while passing through Canaan, N.H., on July 2, 2020. (Clarence Arnold photograph)

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 7/11/2020 9:32:35 PM
Modified: 7/11/2020 9:32:33 PM

Clarence Arnold, a Nikon with a telephoto lens slung over his shoulder, crossed Canaan’s main street to get closer to the Black Lives Matter demonstrators who had assembled near the town common.

“Wow, this is pretty cool,” said Arnold, who was driving through Canaan with his wife, Arlene, for the first time when they happened upon the 30 or so demonstrators on a recent Thursday afternoon.

Arnold, who is Black, stopped to chat with Alix Olson and Martha Popp, a couple of 70-something Canaan residents who were each holding one end of a “Canaan for Peace and Justice” banner.

Olson, a retired police detective who worked for 30 years in Madison, Wis., asked Arnold if he was surprised by what he’d stumbled across in Canaan.

“Yeah,” replied Arnold, a retired Navy photographer. “When you see Black Lives Matter protesters in small-town America, where I imagine 99% of the people are white, you know there’s something bigger going on in our country.”

(He wasn’t far off. In 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 95% of Canaan’s 4,000 residents are white.)

The Arnolds, who live in Waldorf, Md., 25 miles outside of Washington, D.C., were just out “driving and exploring” during their initial trip to the Upper Valley earlier this month. Their son Joseph, an assistant athletics director at Dartmouth, moved to the Upper Valley last fall.

When the couple reached Canaan, where sign-carrying Black Lives Matter supporters had lined the street, Arnold hit the brakes. “I’ve got to shoot this,” he told Arlene, who is Hispanic.

Arnold, 57, pulled into the Mascoma Area Senior Center’s vacant parking lot and grabbed his camera equipment from their car’s trunk. “I like to document wherever I go,” he said.

Rallies like Canaan’s show that “white Americans realize they’re part of the problem,” said Arnold, who grew up in Cleveland. “Black Americans can’t do this on their own.”

After 21 years in the Navy, Arnold started his own photography business. On his website, Arnold said that he uses “photography to raise people’s awareness of the world around them or to show them something within their daily lives that they’ve overlooked.”

In Canaan, supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement are hard to miss. They meet each Thursday at 5 p.m., setting up just off the sidewalk where Route 4 and Route 118 splinter.

This past Thursday, Annie Stuart, a registered nurse, was among two dozen demonstrators who stood in the hot sun with homemade signs, proclaiming, among other things, “Canaan Residents for Black Lives Matter” and “Racism Chokes Us All.”

“Especially in the Upper Valley, where we’re lily-white, it’s important to show that we support people of all colors,” Stuart said.

In the first few weeks, demonstrators have been on the receiving end of “several middle fingers,” but most passing motorists are quick with friendly waves and beeping horns, said Deb Shinnlinger, of Canaan, who has helped organize the rallies.

Shinnlinger and other parents are sometimes joined by their teenage children. “For hundreds of years, Black people have not been treated equally,” said 14-year-old Lydia Josephson, whose father, Tim, represents Canaan in the state Legislature.

Younger people are the “ones who are going to change things,” said Andrea Barrett, who was with her teenage daughters, Ella and Zoe.

“To see young people out here is heartwarming,” Arnold said.

Robert Lowell didn’t share Arnold’s enthusiasm. On Thursday, Lowell sat on his front steps, down the street from the demonstrators. A large piece of cardboard with “All Lives Matter” painted on it rested against an apple tree in Lowell’s front yard.

“All lives matter, not just theirs,” Lowell said.

What kind of reaction did Lowell, who is white, get Thursday from people driving by?

“I’ve had a lot of thumbs-up,” he said.

Lowell, a carpenter, was unaware of the Black Lives Matter rallies occurring on his street until he came home from work on Thursday. That’s when he got out the spray paint.

“It’s offensive,” he said, referring to the demonstrators’ signs a short distance away. “It’s more than just Blacks who are getting hurt by police in this country.”

It’s true that people of all backgrounds have been killed by cops. In 2017, 26-year-old Jesse Champney, who was white, was shot in the back by a New Hampshire State Police trooper just 2 miles down the road from the rall. The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office concluded the shooting was justified.

But it’s also true that Black people are killed by police at disproportionate rate. While Blacks make up 13.2% of the U.S. population, 31.8% of people shot by police were Black — a proportion of more than 2½ times — according to a 2015 FBI report.

To show support for police and that “all lives matter,” Canaan resident William Wilson received the town’s permission to stage a counter-protest, of sorts, on the common each Thursday from 4:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m., starting July 2.

But neither Wilson — nor anyone else — has shown up at the appointed time. On Friday, Wilson, a software architect, told me that the prospect of negative media attention has “scared everyone.”

Wilson said that he and others still plan to put up their signs on Thursday afternoons — roughly coinciding with Canaan’s weekly Black Lives Matter rally — but won’t stick around.

“We don’t want to create any more tension,” he said.

When talking last week with Arnold, who was back in Maryland, I mentioned the All Lives Matter initiative that seems to be bubbling up in Canaan.

“We know all lives matter,” Arnold said. “We just want to be treated as equals.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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