Incident Reminiscent of Lynching in Martha’s Vineyard Camp

Racial Justice

Martha’s Vineyard Camp Releases Report on Disturbing Attack of a Young Black Child

Recently, the Chilmark Town Affairs Council in Martha’s Vineyard released a six-page report regarding a disturbing incident at a children’s camp at the Chilmark Community Center on July 29, 2021, where two white campers attacked an 8-year-old Black child and wrapped a strap around his neck. As the report recognizes, the incident is reminiscent of lynching and “is incredibly disturbing in view of the terrible history and horrifying images that it evoked.”  Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) represents the family of the minor Black child. 

This report marks the first meaningful insight that the family of the Black child has received into this incident since their child untied himself and reported the attack to a counselor, one month ago. The family of the Black child has not had any opportunity to speak directly with the families of the two white campers involved despite their interest in implementing restorative justice techniques as a means of developing community-oriented solutions. 

As the report indicates, this incident was unfortunately not the first warning sign of other bullying incidents by the same white campers. In addition to what is disclosed in the report, the family of the Black child also reported another bullying incident by the white camper, referred to as “Camper Z,” that occurred only one week prior to the attack and where he referred to the Black child as a “Stinky Rat,” as well as kicked and pushed him. 

“There is often a fine line between bullying and discrimination, particularly at this age,” said Sophia Hall, Supervising Attorney at LCR. “They are really intertwined, and treating them as separate was not helpful in this case and should not be a blueprint for how the camp operates moving forward.” Attorney Hall said that the family is calling upon the Martha’s Vineyard camp to enact a full range of meaningful reforms.

The Chilmark Community Center’s present staff training and discipline policy simply did not go far enough to protect this child. There is a clear need here for the development and implementation of a meaningful anti-bias policy for staff and campers, as well as a meaningful investigation and disciplinary process for identity-based incidents. External experts should be brought in to advise the Center in developing those new protocols. Additionally, the Center should think critically about how to better diversify staff, counselors and campers. 

“It cannot be ignored that our child was one of the few children of color at this camp,” said the victim’s mother. “No parent should have to receive a call telling them that their child was attacked with a strap tied around his neck. Our child’s traumatic experience should cause the Chilmark community to take a close look at the need for reforms with real teeth.”

The Martha’s Vineyard report is available here.