Officials at the Chilmark Community Center and the local branch of the NAACP are investigating whether an incident at a summer camp in which two young white boys put a tent strap around the neck of an 8-year-old Black boy was racially motivated.
The young victim went home with an abrasion on his neck.
Meanwhile, residents of the Martha’s Vineyard town said that the center and town officials have been slow to inform the community and have not been forthright.
The incident happened July 29, during the fifth week of a seven-week camp run by the community center that was touted as “a safe summer of fun activities” to include tennis, sailing, arts and crafts, drama, and athletics.
In a statement issued at an emergency meeting Tuesday, the Chilmark Select Board said that while it abhorred violence or discrimination of any kind, it was not in a position, until an investigation was complete, “to assess whether this was a safe play issue or a racial issue.”
“We do know that it was unacceptable,” the four-paragraph statement said.
Arthur Hardy-Doubleday, NAACP chapter president, said “incidents like this cannot be ignored” and called for the children, ages 8 and 9, and their parents to be held accountable.
“This event reminds us that while the island may have a reputation as a racial utopia, we are far from it,” Hardy-Doubleday said in a statement.
Rumors fluttered from Thursday until Monday, when Jeff Herman, president of the Chilmark Town Affairs Council, issued an e-mail and text message blast to people connected to the community center that advised of “an incident for which we are deeply sorry.”
The two young aggressors “placed a strap from one of the tents around the neck of” the victim, Herman said.
“Although there was an abrasion on the boy’s neck left from the strap, thankfully the child was otherwise physically unharmed,” Herman wrote. “That said, we are keenly aware that this event was traumatic.”
“We will begin right away to take steps to investigate the incident and to make sure that incidents such as this do not happen again, starting with a meeting with the staff this morning,” Herman said.
Already riled and feeling that the town and community center had not been forthright, longtime Chilmark resident Jane Slater, 89, said the tone of Herman’s message struck a nerve. She and two friends made signs that said “Close the CCC now” and protested outside the camp Tuesday morning as campers arrived, and again in the afternoon as they left, Slater said.
“It was a very unsatisfactory letter with no real information or real promise of information,” Slater said Wednesday.
“It was a horrific incident if it happened the way it was described,” she said. “[Herman’s] reference to the event and the effect it had on the victim was so casual. We felt that in this time and era it was too light and just too casual.”
Police told local reporters that the boys are too young to face charges. Police officials said they had been in touch with and offered assistance to the victim’s family.