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In an ideal world, 34-year-old Henry Tapia, a father of three, would have spent Thursday night playing video games with his friends or his kids.
Instead, this Thursday, Tapia's kids held a sign that read "I miss my Dad! Mommy won't let me forget you!" while dozens coped with the cold in Belmont's Cushing Square and sang "Amazing Grace."
They gathered to hold a vigil for Tapia, a Black man, who witnesses say was run over and killed by Dean Kapsalis, who called Tapia the n-word.
Authorities say Tapia, of Belmont, and Kapsalis, of Hudson, got into a verbal road rage altercation. When it seemed the exchange was over and both were both back at their cars, Kapsalis "began yelling racial slurs at the victim," before running him over with a truck, according to authorities.
Tapia was pronounced dead at Massachusetts General Hospital. Kapsalis turned himself into police shortly after he fled the scene.
On Thursday, people incanted "Black lives matter" and "say his name." Community leaders like Massachusetts Rep. Dave Rogers say Tuesday's alleged act of hate isn't characteristic of Belmont.
"This is a warm, welcoming community full of wonderful people. Our hearts are broken," he said. "We will carry on. We have an outstanding police chief, an outstanding district attorney. And justice will be done."
But even if justice is done, Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac acknowledged that racism is a much deeper problem.
"I wish I had something prophetic to say. As the police chief, I wish I could tell you that by arresting the suspect in this case, the problem of racial hatred would disappear from our community," MacIsaac said. "Unfortunately, I don't have those words. And we all know that one arrest, alone, won't eliminate these types of crimes."
Kapsalis is charged with a civil rights violation causing injury, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and leaving the scene of an accident causing injury. An attorney entered a not guilty plea for Kapsalis during an arraignment in Cambridge District Court on Wednesday. He's expected back in court Monday.
Every Thursday since May, people have held a vigil for Black lives in Cushing Square. The town of Belmont is peppered with signs that read "Hate Has No Home Here."
But after this week's alleged race-motivated killing, Kim Haley-Jackson, a Black Belmont resident originally from near Ferguson, Missouri, said she feels less safe in her community.
"I have the same concerns every Black mother and wife has when my husband and son leave the door," she said. "It's not every day, but it's in the back of my mind. A lot of my neighbors have the luxury of not having to worry about that."
Haley-Jackson said she was devastated by Tapia's death and shocked by the level of violence. But as a Black woman and vice chair of the Belmont Human Rights Commission tasked with looking into instances of discrimination, she said she's not surprised that Tapia's death may have been motivated by racism.
David Tapia, Henry's younger brother, said he's not surprised either. He said the situation seems familiar, but it's different when it happens to your family.
"I feel like if it was police brutality, it would be nationwide — like, 'Oh, another African American male got shot,' " Tapia said after his brother's vigil. "But this time, another racist civilian attacked another Black Latino — an Afro Latino — and I feel the word isn't getting spread enough. It's another racist act."
He said something has to change.
"You can't judge us on our skin color. Everybody's human," Tapia said. "Enough is enough."
After Thursday's vigil, as Courtney Morton, Henry Tapia's partner, took their kids to the car to go home without dad, she made a vow of sorts.
"I will die being the love of his life. And I will fight for him, because he couldn't continue to fight from all the damage done," she said. "He's my rock and I'm going to show him that I'm going to be the soldier he wanted me to be."
Sarah Bilodeau, a friend of the Tapia family, called the attack, "unacceptable."
"The loss is tragic," she said. "It's completely shocking. He was a block from his own home when this happened."
This article was originally published on January 21, 2021.
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