CLAREMONT, N.H. — Nine months after an 8-year-old biracial boy was nearly hanged, a New Hampshire city is still healing from the incident and grappling with diversity and inclusion.
Claremont Mayor Charlene Lovett said the incident in her city last August caused communitywide efforts to raise awareness on diversity-related issues.
"That wasn't my experience growing up in New Hampshire, so I just couldn't believe something like that could happen here," Lovett said Thursday night at a listening session organized by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu's Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion.
The council is traveling statewide to ask residents how New Hampshire communities can become more welcoming for minorities and to share any personal experiences with discrimination.
Advisory council member Dottie Morris said the meeting gave her more insight into groups that have formed in response to the boy's near-hanging.
"They've been able to examine themselves in the process of establishing these amazing groups," Morris said. "I can tell they've been working diligently to create a different reality."
One example is the Racial Healing Working Group, which hopes to promote equality through education and community dialogue. Group member Reb MacKenzie said it has sponsored several events and rallies since last year to address white supremacy and racism in the community.
Council Chairman Rogers Johnson said Claremont was chosen for one of the forums partially because of the incident that injured the child in what the family called a racially motivated "lynching."
Allegations surfaced that several teenagers taunted the boy with racial slurs and then pushed him off a picnic table with a rope around his neck. The victim's injuries were treated at a hospital, according to the boy's grandmother, Lorrie Slattery.
Police Chief Mark Chase said few details can be released about the case because juveniles are involved. The Attorney General's office conducted its own investigation on whether the alleged attack would be treated as a hate crime or civil rights violation. It expects to release a report but hasn't said when.
The parents of one of the accused teenagers said the incident was not motivated by racism and called it a tragic "backyard accident."
The victim's family didn't attend the forum, but the incident remained close to everyone's minds and was referenced multiple times by residents, law enforcement and town officials.
Cornish resident Mary Boyle said while she can't say for certain whether bias incidents are on the rise in the region, there is more attention on the ones that do come to light. She referenced an April incident where racially charged fliers were placed on people's cars in a Lebanon plaza parking lot and said that law enforcement did not consider it a crime, citing the First Amendment.
Another woman attending the session said that swastikas were drawn over her Black Lives Matter sign in her front yard back in December.
"We need to figure out a way to prevent these incidents from becoming hate crimes, and that's why I'm glad police officers were here today," Boyle said. "Nothing ever happens when these things occur. They just fade away."
Morris was surprised to learn about some of the more recent happenings in neighboring areas of Claremont and, as someone who lives nearby, said she was concerned.
"That's fear-producing for some of the people that live in this area," Morris said.
The advisory council said it will be returning to Claremont before its statewide tour is over.
"My feeling is that people who are on the council are sincere and realistic that it might take three to five years to see actual change and results," Boyle said.