2017-09-13 / Front Page

It takes a village

Community unites against racism after juvenile incident

Attendees at Tuesday’s vigil in Broad Street Park sign up to take part in future community discussions about racism and other potential causes of disunity. — TIMOTHY LAROCHEAttendees at Tuesday’s vigil in Broad Street Park sign up to take part in future community discussions about racism and other potential causes of disunity. — TIMOTHY LAROCHECLAREMONT — Chants of “black lives matter” rung out across Broad Street Park Tuesday evening as community members, city officials and faith leaders gathered in a vigil against racism. Signs with the same message also dotted the small park as speakers in the nearby gazebo spoke generally of the need for the community to come together against racism and division.

The event was organized following a much-publicized incident that occurred on Aug. 28 in which a local bi-racial 8-year-old was injured. Claremont Police released a statement on Tuesday confirming that they are investigating the incident, but juvenile confidentiality laws prohibit the release of any further details.

The vigil began with an introduction from Licensed Social Worker Rebecca Mackenzie, who also organized the event. From the start, her speech directed the focus of the vigil away from the specifics of the Aug. 28 incident towards the broader community reaction.

“We are gathering to recognize that we have… a mountain of work to do to overcome racism in our community and in virtually every community in America,” Mackenzie said. “I believe that with God’s wisdom and strength, we will be able to move mountains.”

Several faith leaders later took the microphone to broadcast similar messages. Rev. Janet Lombardo of the Trinity Episcopal and Prince of Peace Lutheran Church led a prayer before deferring to Co-Pastor John Gregory-Davis of the Meriden Congregational Church.

“We have a challenge, folks… this needs to be our wakeup call to engage in collective liberation,” Gregory-Davis said.

Hartland Unitarian Universalist Pastor Paul Sawyer would later speak. And the event concluded with a benediction from First Congregational Church of Claremont Pastor John Johnson.

Several city officials attended the event as speakers as well. Most notably, Police Chief Mark Chase said that his department takes seriously the safety and rights of all people regardless of their identity.

“The policy of the Claremont Police Department is to safeguard the civil rights of every citizen regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, handicap or social orientation,” Chase said. “Although that’s our policy, that’s our duty. There is no doubt that we need help in doing this. It’s an old proverb that says ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ It takes that same village that I am looking at right now to ensure that there is equal justice for all.”

Chase later said that although his department often becomes involved in cases after there is a victim who has already been deprived of constitutional rights, the community can take steps to notice signs of bias before any incident occurs.

Assistant Mayor Allen Damren, speaking on behalf of Mayor Charlene Lovett, who could not attend to event, said that the event presents an opportunity for the community to unite.

“Who we are as a community is demonstrated everyday through our actions,” Damren said from a prepared speech from Lovett. “Where we want to go will be determined by what we value and by our commitment to unite to achieve those values.”

City Manager Ryan McNutt also echoed similar sentiments, noting to the people who turned out to the vigil that the allegations surrounding the incident are not representative of Claremont. McNutt also read to the crowd the words of a friend in the community — words “that absolutely are in [McNutt’s] heart as well.”

“I am sad, deeply sad, but I am hopeful. Our community gathers filled with heartbreak and concern and outrage. It gathers also filled with wanting to do what is good and just,” McNutt said, reading the words of the community member.

McNutt, speaking on behalf of the community member, later noted that the investigation into the incident that spurred the discussion should play out legally. The community, meanwhile, should come together and reflect more generally on racial division.

“We can show our country how one small community is working with honesty and integrity to get it right,” McNutt said.

Olivia Lapierre, an activist, led vigil attendees in a Black Lives Matter chant, followed by a moment of silence. And at the conclusion of the vigil, before attendees were given the opportunity to sign up for additional discussions on the subjects presented, organizers led vigil-goers holding hands in a rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”

“Black lives matter. Black women's’ lives matter. Black disabled lives matter. Black incarcerated lives matter,” Lapierre said, the crowd echoing back to her.

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