OPINION – “Claremont Is A Wake-Up Call”: Thoughts On A Lynching and Racism Close To Home
On August 28th, an 8-year-old biracial boy, Quincy, was rushed to Dartmouth Hitchcock after sustaining severe rope burns to the neck from an alleged hanging.
The Claremont resident had been playing outside with a few 14-year-old boys when they discovered a rope hanging from a tree. According to Quincy’s grandmother, Lorrie Slattery, the older boys convinced Quincy to stand on a picnic table and place the rope around his neck. They then pushed him from the table, and he swung three times before managing to free himself. The older boys then ran away. What’s more, Slattery told police the alleged hanging was in the context of racist remarks and that days before the same boys threw stones and yelled racial slurs at her grandson.
Claremont police were slow to take action and brushed off the event as a “backyard accident.” However, in the ensuing days, the Claremont resident’s story made headlines across the country when images of Quincy’s wounded neck were posted on Facebook. News outlets labeled the incident as a “lynching,” a reference to the racially charged method of murder used historically against people of color. Activist groups signed petitions and circulated the photos of Quincy’s injury, and hundreds gathered at a vigil in Claremont to discuss violence against people of color in the country. With a sudden spotlight on the New Hampshire town, Governor Chris Sununu interceded. He condemned the act and sent a team of investigators to aid local police, increasing police accountability.
Since then, however, the parents of one of the alleged perpetrator spoke to newspapers and asserted the original account is false. Rhianna Larken, one 14-year-old’s mother, told Newsweek her son was watching another friend climb a tree when he noticed Quincy on the picnic table. According to Larken, “Not thinking that [Quincy had a rope around his neck… he thought in his mind, “Oh this is going to be really funny, I’m going to jump up behind him and scare him so he jumps off.” So [my son] jumped onto this bench, and jumped on to the opposite end of the table where he was. And then [my son] went ‘GGGGRRRR’ and [the boy] jumped.” Larken claims her son did not run away and denied her son had ever used racial slurs. Unfortunately, the lack of a parental presence and conflicting accounts of the event may mean it is impossible to verify what actually happened. We may never have all the facts. However, this does not change the reality that events like this have widespread impacts on both Claremont and the larger Vermont/New Hampshire community. Furthermore, we cannot deny that racial tension and prejudice is a widespread issue.
Claremont is a wake-up call that should remind us that we, as residents of the Upper Valley (and of two of the whitest states in the nation), must examine how we teach all young people who are all part of the same community to work together and care for each other.
Admittedly, racism can be incredibly difficult to discuss, especially in homogeneous environments where white people have few opportunities to learn from people of color. We all have unexamined assumptions about race, and may not understand the way our actions are experienced by those with different backgrounds. A community that lacks diversity is rarely challenged to look at itself in the mirror and reflect on subtle inequities.
While Hanover may offer a high quality education, it fails in that our limited diversity and corresponding lack of cultural competence may leave us poorly prepared for an increasingly diverse and global world. Our racial biases, especially the most subtle, go unquestioned.
It is possible that the young teens in Claremont had no understanding of the powerful and terrible symbolism of putting a noose around a biracial child’s neck. However, a viral ending to the story was perhaps inevitable given a recent awareness concerning police brutality against African Americans. Community efforts to redress and heal have thus been swamped by national discourse.
We can learn from Claremont and work to preempt acts that could potentially have racial implications. Because there are so few people of color in Hanover, it is not only the responsibility but the imperative that we question how we ensure our school and town are equally supportive and protective of students of color.
Due to a lack of experience tackling racial injustices, our efforts will be clumsy at first, but we cannot shy away from these difficult conversations out of fear of messing up.
Let’s have this discussion now, and celebrate the courage and willingness of those who work to ensure justice for all people.
We can begin by asking ourselves how we would respond to an incident like Claremont’s should it have happened within our own community. In order to develop a just and effective approach, these events must be examined from a complex perspective that considers the discrepancies in how people of different backgrounds – including race – are impacted. Because our community is largely white, it is our duty to be proactive in not only considering our own reactions to potentially race-related challenges, but the impact of the most marginalized.
As the great writer and social critic James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”