This is an opinion piece that originally ran in the Concord Monitor on Saturday, November 11, 2017.
It has been over two months since an 8-year-old biracial boy was nearly lynched in Claremont. This alarming act rightfully drew shock from across our state, and across the nation, when photos of the young boy went viral.
But has our shock brought justice or translated into change? Can we say today that we are confident that such an appalling incident will never again happen in New Hampshire? No, we can’t. Which raises the question: What more can we do?
If the argument is that the instigators of the Claremont incident didn’t understand the enormity of their actions, we must change that. In this country, it is not okay for teenagers to lack understanding of the historical relevance of “lynching” and its severe harm to people and communities. It is one of those acts for which “I was just joking around” should never be a justification or an explanation.
As a community, and as individuals, it is our responsibility to make it so – to ensure that no child or teenager dare associate lynching with messing around in the backyard.
We could simply call the incident a “law enforcement matter” and leave it to the police to handle, but it is highly unlikely that the investigation underway will produce justice or a satisfactory result for anyone. There are contrasting stories of the event, and there is no recording to lay down the truth. Most importantly, however, no law enforcement outcome will confront the larger social challenge before us.
It is time to recognize racial inequity in New Hampshire. As Granite Staters, we need to stop giving ourselves the incorrect excuse that race is irrelevant here because the population is over 90 percent white. It is exactly in states like our own where “whiteness” is central to cultural identity that we most need to have a concerted conversation about race, white privilege and racial equity so we don’t have to have conversations with teens about lynchings because “they don’t know any better.”
Ignorance is one of the most common drivers of racism, and yet one of the poorest excuses.
So, let us ask the original question differently. What can we do going forward to ensure that Claremont never happens again? The answer is, many, many things.
We can ask our schools to institute cultural competency and diversity training. Such training is gaining popularity on university campuses, but there is no reason that such training must wait until late teens. Children recognize and adopt cultural stereotypes about race between the ages of 5 and 7. Cultural competency should be considered a key portion of social learning for elementary and middle school children.
Claremont could also open a door for New Hampshire to widely consider restorative justice education, which is particularly impactful with youth. It removes the go-to types of punishment for youth – detention or suspension – and instead provides offenders with an opportunity to make amends, often directly to the victims. It can also be impactful in situations where malice may or may not have been present, but harm was still committed. Rather than a law enforcement approach, restorative justice actually focuses on real accountability and addressing the harm done.
Racism may be less visible in states with minimal diversity, but it is just as prevalent – and just as dangerous. We are doing a disservice to our communities to not see Claremont as a warning bell and to not use Claremont as a call to action.