A white child at a summer camp on Martha’s Vineyard placed a tent strap around the neck of a Black camper last month, in an act that a civil rights group representing the boy called “reminiscent of lynching” on Monday as it urged reform.
The act involving 8- and 9-year-old boys occurred late last month at the Chilmark Community Center, according to a report released last week by the Chilmark Town Affairs Council.
The group, Lawyers for Civil Rights, has asked for a review of policies to increase racial awareness at the camp on the affluent, predominantly white vacation resort off the coast of Massachusetts.
It called the act “reminiscent of lynching and … incredibly disturbing in view of the terrible history and horrifying images that it evoked.”
The Chilmark council concluded in its report that there was no “evidence of overt racial motivation.”
Lawyers for Civil Rights attorney Sophia Hall disagreed.
“You don’t need a swastika or the n-word for it to be a racial incident,” she said. “There are other ways racism rears its ugly head. It’s clear here that one of the few children of color at this camp was targeted.”
A voicemail seeking comment was left with the community center on Monday.
According to the town’s report, the three children were under a tent on the morning of July 29 and the Black child was playing alone with a tent strap. Two white children approached and also started playing with the strap. At one point, one of the white campers wrapped the strap around the neck of the Black child and the tent pole, and didn’t stop even after the Black child resisted and told him to stop. The Black child broke free and told a counselor.
The white campers were picked up by their parents and not allowed to return for the rest of the summer.
The only witness was another camper.
No names were included in the report because everyone involved is a minor.
“No one we spoke with heard these children or any children at the Community Center use any racial slurs or use racially charged language before, during or after the incident,” the report said. “No incidents of such behavior were reported to the Community Center during the course of the summer program.”
But according to Lawyers for Civil Rights, this was not the first time the Black child had been bullied. The family of the Black child reported that the white child had previously referred to him as a “stinky rat” and pushed and kicked him.
The Chilmark council in response to its own report has proposed several reforms at the camp, including identifying opportunities to enhance diversity among campers and counselors, and a review of current policies and procedures for addressing inappropriate behavior.
The proposed reforms do not go far enough, Hall said.
The camp needs a code of conduct for campers and staffers, anti-bias training, and a meaningful outside investigation and disciplinary process for identity-based confrontations in the future, she said.
Hall, noting that the town’s report was all internal, said the town also needs to bring in external consultants and experts when formulating reforms.
The town has been uncooperative in giving the parents of the Black child the opportunity to engage with the parents of the other children involved, she said.
“This has been a really challenging month for them,” Hall said. “They have been at a loss for how this happened.”