So I’ve made it clear that when people equate Black pride and Black Lives Matter to white pride and the KKK, the people making the comparison are failing to understand huge, important, relevant differences between the phenomenon of whiteness and the phenomenon of blackness. I’ve also spent some time making the point that not every murder is a lynching, that lynching is a crime with multiple components and the public infliction of terror is part of that. Because of this, I’ve made the case that lynching is ongoing. If lynching includes murder but is not complete until photos of smiling murderers are shared or nooses are displayed, then noose-threats are part of lynching and where we find threats that refer back to racist murders in order to create fear in a community, especially (though today arguably not only) a black community, then you have lynching occurring right here, right now.
But the actual murders have always been more rare than the terrorizing references to those murders, whether photos or other records, or less linguistic symbols such as publicly displayed nooses. This both assists some in discounting the threats inherent in those records and symbols and also helps to convince people that lynch murders no longer happen or don’t happen “here”.
This, of course, is not true. But today it’s my tragic duty to inform you of a particular racist hanging in New Hampshire. Angela Helm of The Root, relying in part on the reporting of NH1 and the Valley News, tells the story:
[A] Claremont, N.H., boy had to be flown to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center after one or more teens decided to hang him from a tree with a rope.
[The boy’s grandmother] told the Valley News that the incident was, in fact, racially motivated and “intentional.”
[She] said that she was able to recount what happened from her grandson’s 11-year-old sister and other children present (there were no adults): Her grandson and some teens were playing in a yard on Aug. 28 when the teens started calling the little boy “racial epithets” and throwing sticks and rocks at his legs.
Some or all of the teens allegedly stepped up on a picnic table and grabbed a nearby rope that had been part of a tire swing, [she] said.
“The [teenagers] said, ‘Look at this,’ supposedly putting the rope around their necks,” [she] said. “One boy said to [her grandson], ‘Let’s do this,’ and then pushed him off the picnic table and hung him.”
I risk quoting the entirety of Helm’s piece, and I do wish that you would go there to read the rest if you can, but there is one other piece of this story too vital to leave out. The local police chief is (appropriately) declining to share information on the kids who perpetrated this racist attempted murder. While withholding the name of 14-year-olds in this case is justified and may even be required by New Hampshire law, it stands in contrast with how so many black children accused of crimes are treated. That contrast was heightened by statements of the Claremont Police Chief, Mark Chase:
[Chase] would not comment on the specifics of the case, saying only that they were still investigating and that those involved are juveniles, prohibiting him from specifically making any comment. Chase also said that the kids being investigated (who knows if they’re charged?) should be “protected.”
“Mistakes they make as a young child should not have to follow them for the rest of their life,” Chase said.
Notice how he called these predators “young children,” infantilizing the white teens. Conversely, teens like Trayvon Martin are made out to be hulking, menacing adults. Chase seems to be centering the perpetrators’ feelings and futures, all but forgetting about the trauma of a little boy who had his so-called friends hang him from a tree to the point where he had to be medevaced to a hospital.
It is a fact of our current social context – one we should seek to change, but that cannot be ignored in this moment – that if the names of the perpetrators of this crime were released, they would be targeted for abuse by scattered, horrible people. Though these people are nowhere near the majority, when stories reach a wide audience only a tiny percentage need react with insults and threats to create an intolerable, life-affecting stream of abuse. I do not want even racist, violent children to be subjected to that. So I’d like us not to focus on the protection of the racist aggressors’ identities as an evil, but rather as appropriate treatment that is too often denied to other children, and which is disproportionately denied to children based on racial and racist categorizations and perceptions.
In particular, I’d like to call attention to that last bit of Chase’s statement:
Mistakes they make as a young child should not have to follow them for the rest of their life,
Yes. Yes they should. They should never forget that day and the choices that they made. What shouldn’t happen is the public shaming of a child. There is such a thing as unjust sentence inflicted after a just conviction. We can argue about what the consequences should be for children who choose, as teens, to attempt murder on an 8 year old child while shouting racial epithets at the poor kid. I won’t argue with anyone who thinks that this is something that a teen should be able to forget or leave behind at some age of majority.
But even more than that, when is this the attitude of public figures towards Black and Latino and other racialized children, especially boys? I can think of only one context, and it’s not one that gives me hope: sexual assault. Think of the Steubenville rape case. One of the rapists in that case was a Black teenager, and when convicted appeared to be included in mass-media’s public mourning on no less a basis as the white teenager convicted of the same crimes. That doesn’t make me more optimistic that the accused will be judged on the basis of their actions and not on the basis of their identities. Rather, it merely shows that at least in the context of sexual assault, it’s possible for gendered classifications to be more important than racial classifications in determining the treatment of the accused. Judging by the Steubenville and Claremont examples, however, both are still more important than the actual behaviors involved.
If there are any more ways a lynching can break your heart, I cannot think of them.
Sorry for the inability to get much written lately, folks.
Also, I’ve redacted the grandmother’s name. It’s all over those other stories, and if you have a reason to need to know it, I’m not preventing anyone from finding it, but enough has happened to this child and I’m not at all interested in spreading his identity even more widely. Though the other posts and articles on this lynching omitted the name of the boy, printing the names of family members makes their efforts ineffective. Thus I’m opting not to print those names more widely even though the story itself is important.
However, some redaction has been performed at those other sites, mainly of the names of children. Confusingly, then, when you see “[she]” in reference to the grandmother of the boy who was lynched, that is my redaction. While “[teenagers]” and “[her grandson]” are redactions made in the original article at The Root.
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