×

Hundreds gather in Claremont to support injured biracial boy after ‘lynching’

  • Katrina Roberge, 14, of Lebanon, stands with her father John Roberge in silence during a gathering at Broad Street Park in Claremont. James. M. Patterson / Valley News

  • Community members hold hands Tuesday during gathering at Broad Street Park in Claremont to show support for an 8-year-old biracial Claremont boy who was injured while playing with a group of teenagers in his yard last month. James M. Patterson photos / Valley News



Valley News
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Hundreds of activists, clergy and concerned residents gathered in Broad Street Park on Tuesday to spread a message of tolerance and resilience following the injuries suffered last month by an 8-year-old biracial boy in an episode his family has characterized as a “lynching.”

The case has drawn considerable attention in the past week, with political figures weighing in and national news and political activist groups featuring accounts online and on social media.

Attendees at the “Time for Reflection,” as they called the rally, held hands, chanted and waved signs that read “Stand Together” and “No More Strange Fruit” – a reference to the 1930s blues song protesting lynchings of black people in the American South.

“The purpose of this gathering is really to declare that racist acts in our community are not acceptable,” organizer Rebecca MacKenzie said to the crowd.

Few details have emerged from police investigators, but the boy’s family says that on Aug. 28, some young teenagers taunted him with racial epithets, put a rope around his neck and then intentionally pushed him off a picnic table.

He was airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where he was treated for neck injuries and subsequently released.

Olivia Lapierre, an activist from Hartford, Vt., called on attendees to support the aspirations of black and brown people and celebrate their achievements, rather than pay attention to them only in moments of crisis.

“Black lives should matter before we’re buried, and this is a perfect example,” she said.

Lapierre then led the crowd in a chant. It began with the phrase “black lives matter” and continued by naming black marginalized groups: black trans, queer, disabled and incarcerated people, black women, black immigrants – and, she added, using the injured boy’s first name, “Quincy’s life matters.”

The crowd roared the words back to her, again and again.

Claremont Police Chief Mike Chase also spoke at the rally, saying that his department’s objective was “to safeguard the civil rights of each citizen, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, handicap or sexual orientation.”

Some of the activists at Tuesday’s rally had been critical of city police for not being more forthcoming with residents about the incident.

Chase reminded those present of the adage that it takes a village to raise a child.

“It takes that same village,” he said, “the village I’m looking at right now, to secure justice for all.”

Earlier on Tuesday, in a written statement, Chase for the first time acknowledged that his department is investigating circumstances of the boy’s injuries and revealed the age ranges of the juveniles involved.

The Claremont Police Department detectives were “taking all steps possible” to investigate potential crimes, the statement read.

Chase, however, still declined to elaborate on what his investigators had learned, citing state law that governs the release of information about juveniles.

“The investigation principally revolves around the conduct of people who are 14 years of age or younger,” he said in the release. “Because this case involves juveniles, disclosure of information is dictated by (state statute).

“I want to assure everyone in our community, our neighboring communities, and the nation at large that we take all reports made to this agency very seriously, and will complete our investigations in a thorough and professional manner.”

Chase added that if the police department receives information that a crime was committed and its motivation was hostility toward the victim’s religion, race, creed, sexual orientation, national origin or sex, he would pursue an enhanced sentence or take civil action through the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office.

Earlier on Tuesday, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu issued a statement condemning “hatred and bigotry” and saying he had sent state police investigators to help in Claremont.

“Yesterday on my instruction, the Attorney General’s Office sent a team to Claremont to provide assistance,” he said. “It is my expectation that local and state authorities will investigate appropriately and I’ve asked for regular updates on how things are proceeding. Hatred and bigotry will not be tolerated in New Hampshire.”

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., said she was “sickened” by what she had heard about the incident but “encouraged” by Sununu’s response.

“Like many others, I’ve been outraged and sickened by the chilling images on social media and in the news of a young boy whose neck has been gouged by a rope,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.

“No parent can look at this photo without feeling a pit in their stomach. The reports that this was potentially a race-based act of violence underscores the need to gain a full understanding of what happened.”

In Claremont, Tuesday’s rally was marked by a few voices of dissent, mostly from passersby who objected to “Black Lives Matter” signs held by participants.

“All lives matter!” one man shouted from a pickup truck. “Every single life matters. Stop making it all about race – all lives matter.”

Later, Pete Toner, of South Acworth called the same slogan from the crowd – “All lives matter!”– and briefly talked with some attendees before leaving on his motorcycle.

In an interview, Toner called Black Lives Matter, a movement to curb racial bias in policing, a “terrorist” organization. He said the attack on the boy had been “a bad thing,” but said a better response to the violence would have been to say that “all lives matter.”

Lloyd Gabourel, a Hanover resident who attended the rally, said the “all lives matter” advocates misunderstood the intent of the phrase “black lives matter.” The slogan is meant to draw attention to ways in which people of color still face inequity, not to elevate them above other races, he said.

“They have no understanding of what that means,” he said. “It’s not exclusive for black people; it’s inclusive of them.”

After the first interruption, from the man in the truck, participants invited him to join them. He sped off.

“We have an awful lot of work to do,” a speaker said.