About 100 people gathered in a park in downtown Claremont, New Hampshire, Tuesday night for a vigil in response to an alleged attack of an 8-year-old biracial boy in the city.
At the event, it didn’t take long before racial tensions were on full display. Organizer Rebecca MacKenzie was introducing the night's first speaker when she was interrupted by a white man, driving by and and yelling from his truck.
"All lives matter," he proclaimed, responding to “Black Lives Matter” signs in the crowd. "Stop making it about race," he yelled.
MacKenzie, speaking from the park's gazebo, tried to bring the two sides together. “Sir, come over to our vigil,” she requested, in vain. The man drove away.
Turning back to the crowd, MacKenzie continued with the program. “We have an awful lot of work to do,” she said.
The alleged attack occurred just before the start of the school year. According to reports from the boy's family, a group of Claremont teenagers began throwing sticks and rocks, calling the boy racial slurs. They then allegedly tied a rope around his neck and pushed him off a picnic table. His mother posted a photo to Facebook showing bruises and cuts on her son's neck, writing that he was airlifted to the hospital but survived.
At the vigil Tuesday, many spoke to broader concerns about racism in the community.
“Something like this doesn’t arise out of a vacuum,” said John Gregory-Davis, a pastor at the Congregational Church in Meriden. “White children don’t get the idea to lynch a biracial child out of their imagination.”
One by one, he and other faith leaders spoke, along with city officials and the police chief.
Few details have been released about the alleged attack and investigation. Officials say that because the incident involves juveniles they're limited in what they can say.
The New Hampshire attorney general's office is helping the Claremont Police Department with its investigation.
Social and racial justice groups have urged law enforcement to investigate the alleged attack as a hate crime.
Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase said his department will consider any evidence of bias. “It’s our policy, but it’s our duty, to consider that as part of the investigation,” he said.
“Hatred and bigotry will not be tolerated in New Hampshire,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement Tuesday, adding that he's requested regular updates on the investigation.
Meanwhile, the Claremont schools called parents Monday night. The district is looking into ways to have conversations about racism in the classroom, said Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin.
Practical details of what that will look like are still being worked out. The same is true at the city level. Claremont recently joined a national program aimed at preventing violence around the city. But, asked what could be done to address racial tensions, City Manager Ryan McNutt struggled to find an answer.
“I would have to really sit down and think about what we would do, specifically, for race,” he said. He'd like to keep the dialogue going, he said, to increase diversity in Claremont.
Like the region as a whole, Claremont is overwhelmingly white, and conversations about race don't always come naturally. As the vigil broke up at dusk, a pickup truck drove around the town square with a full-sized confederate flag waving in the wind.
This story comes via New Hampshire Public Radio.