Most of us were saddened and disgusted by the graphic photo of the little boy from Claremont, N.H., who was nearly hanged from a tree. If that wasn’t bad enough, the town’s police chief went on record shortly thereafter, saying of the kids who assaulted the biracial 8-year-old: “Mistakes they make as a young child should not have to follow them for the rest of their life.”
In short order, not only did young Quincy get an early lesson in injustice, but he also got a searing taste of a tried-and-true American dictum: Black lives don’t matter (also, the criminal-justice system protects white men; also, nooses are just play things for silly kids; also, white kids who make mistakes will be protected; also, your body is less important than someone else’s “future;” also, racism is OK; also, you’re not safe).
Quincy, who will be 9 years old in about a week, is recovering from his injuries and has started fourth grade, according to his mother, Cassandra Merlin. On Tuesday night, his hometown of about 13,000 held an interfaith vigil in his name, and earlier that day, Claremont Police Chief Mark T. Chase released a “Special Press Release” promising to prosecute the case as a bias or hate crime if the investigation bears that out, a markedly different tact from his initial comments. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has also sent a team of state prosecutors to help police investigate.
For more than a week after the Aug. 28 incident, however, Merlin, who has lived in the faded factory town since she was a teen, says she felt that she was being brushed off, which prompted her to share her son’s story and photo on social media.
“[Comments like the one the chief made] show he doesn’t understand the severity of the situation,” Merlin tells The Root. “Because at the end of the day, Quincy could have died. I feel like they’re not taking it as seriously because he didn’t die.”
Unfortunately for Quincy, the incident was not the first time he dealt with racial bullying. His mom says his “baby fat” and “brown skin” make him a target.
“When they were teaching in school about slavery, kids would tell him they couldn’t play with them because they were white and he was black,” she says. “And he’s had kids call him the n-word, and tease him for being a different race.”
On the day of the incident, Quincy and his 11-year-old sister, Ayanna, went outside to the park two doors down from their house. The pair went across the street to look for one of Quincy’s friends and saw some older kids, whom they’d had a run-in with earlier in the day.
“This woman had told me earlier that day that the teenagers had been jumping Quincy and she had stopped the fight,” says Merlin. “And Quincy being the kid that he is, he just wants people to like him, [so he] decided to forgive the kids for what they had done and continued to play with them and his sister.”
But the “play” soon took a bad turn when, Merlin says, the kids started hitting Quincy in the legs with sticks and throwing rocks at him. They also started making comments about the fact that he is black and saying things like “white pride” to him and Ayanna.
“There was a tire swing at the back of this house, and one of the kids had broken the tire off the swing and the rope was hanging,” says Merlin. “The older boys had put the ropes around their necks, and they told Quincy that it was his turn to do it. And Quincy got up on the table and put the rope around his neck, and another kid came up from behind him and pushed him off of the picnic table. And they walked away and left him there hanging.”
Merlin says that Ayanna began screaming for help and described Quincy kicking his feet, grabbing at his neck and turning purple before he ended up dropping to the ground.
Merlin says when she got there and saw Quincy’s wounds, she immediately called the police. She said the two older boys and a girl ran. She left her boyfriend to deal with the police, and took Quincy to the local hospital.
There, they immediately put a neck brace on the little boy, gave him oxygen and began to assess his injuries. The doctors decided that they wanted him to be transported to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., about 20 miles away. Quincy was transported to the hospital by helicopter, and Merlin made the 35-minute drive, making child care arrangements for her three other children.
Quincy stayed at Dartmouth for almost two days and underwent a battery of tests. He suffered no permanent physical damage, and mentally, his mom says, Quincy is doing OK despite some night terrors.
“The hardest part about Quincy is that he has the ability to handle trauma quite well,” says Merlin ruefully. She wants him to start therapy, but because she has state insurance, she admits “it’s a process.”
Quincy’s sister, Ayanna, who witnessed the act, is not doing quite as well.
“She’s a little bit worse off than Quincy. She cries a lot,” says Merlin. “For the first few days, she refused to eat any food, she wouldn’t sleep. She’s been very emotional lately. And she’s very protective over her brother now.
“She actually goes to school with the boy and has to deal with a lot of taunting at school from kids who say she’s a liar and that are friends with the boy. That makes it a little hard for her. She’s been in the guidance counselor’s office quite a few times since school started,” says Merlin. “And school only started last week.”
Merlin says Chief Chase showed up at Merlin’s boyfriend’s home Monday, after the story went viral, saying that they were “doing the best that they can.”
She says that when she initially spoke to Chase at the hospital, the poice chief said he would recommend family court and that Merlin would not be able to attend the hearing because the young man accused is a juvenile.
“They said they were just going to suggest juvenile probation. I said, ‘How about some mandatory therapy?’” Merlin asks incredulously.
“They just want the boy to get probation where he just has to go home after school, which is not a punishment by any means,” she says. “Absolutely not.”
She says that police have only spoken to Quincy once and not to Ayanna at all.
“They’re not really good at keeping up with me,” she adds. “They say they’re going to call and then they don’t. And then I call and they’ll return the phone call a couple of days later. And they always say, “Well, we have a lot going on, and we’re doing interviews and we’re doing this and that. And they’re not very good keeping up with me and it’s hard; I have a busy schedule.
“I’m a mom, I’m a bartender, I work nights,” she says. “It makes it a little bit difficult because the guy investigating the case is on the night shift. They’ve been in contact with my boyfriend a lot more than they have been with me. The chief showed up at his house last night to talk with him. And he said, ‘I’m getting a lot of backlash from this, but I just wanted to know that I am doing what I can do.’”
Merlin is going through a divorce, and in March, she had to downsize and move the family to what she calls a “rougher” part of town. The overwhelmingly white working-class city, like the rest of the state, has been hard hit by the opioid epidemic, and poverty rates are almost double the rest of the state.
“My main goal is to try to remove ourselves from that area,” says Merlin. “I am not trying to leave [the town completely], only because this is where my family is, my mother, my brother is around here, but just to move to a better area, one where Quincy doesn’t have to be reminded of what happened.
“It just makes it really hard because it happened two houses down from mine. So that’s also traumatic for Quincy to have him walk out the front door and see the place where that happened,” she says. “He can’t even go to the park any more without looking across the street. And remembering what happened to him there.”
Merlin says that She herself has been bullied for speaking up, but she’s taking it all in stride.
“There’s a lot of hearsay going around town that I’m not a good mother and it’s my fault, and if I hadn’t let my son out, it would have never happened to him. So I’m getting a lot of negativity,” she says. “But I feel like the positivity outweighs that so I don’t really pay much mind to what people say.”
On top of everything else, Merlin’s 1-year-old son was recently diagnosed with ITP, a rare blood disorder, and has been hospitalized at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the same place Quincy was treated. She was also in the hospital with her son when it was locked down because of an active shooter who came in and killed one person.
“Obviously, I’m very stressed out. Very overwhelmed. I’m trying to keep my head above water because we all deal with hardships in life, and I’m just trying to stay as strong as possible because I’m trying to be the best mother that I can be,” she says.
Merlin says that she just wants people to understand that racism is very much alive and well, even in New England’s Upper Valley.
“This kind of stuff does happen. Everywhere. Even in a small town in New Hampshire,” she says. “My biggest thing is that my son knows what they did was wrong and they will be punished for what they did. And I want those children who are involved—teenagers, but still children—I want them to understand the severity of the situation to see that there are consequences to their actions.”
Her wish for Quincy, she says, is that he knows that he’s not alone and that his life matters, too.
“I want people to know about this; I don’t want it to be hushed down and people acting like it never happened,” she says. “And I want Quincy to know that they’re not going to get away with it. And he doesn’t have to walk down the street in fear. I can’t even let him leave the house by himself now. And that’s really sad because he used to love to be able to do things.”
Editor’s note: A GoFundMe page has been set up to support Quincy’s family and has been signed off on by Merlin.