Deep River Seeks Communication, Healing After Viral Racial Incidents

By By Aaron Rubin • 07/13/2022 07:00 am EST

Officials in Deep River are looking for ways to educate, communicate, and heal with help from community leaders and the Anti-Defamation League following several racially-tinged incidents in June.

“Our town does not condone violence in any way and encourages dialogue as a means to a peaceful resolution,” First Selectman Angus McDonald wrote in a statement sent to residents. “Toward that end, the Town, together with the Anti-Defamation League and community leaders, is working to schedule a community forum and subsequent programs directed toward education, communication, and healing.”

McDonald’s statement came shortly after video of a June 27 incident involving an 11-year-old boy and a 48-year-old man went viral on television news media and the internet. The video appears to show a confrontation between the man, identified by police as Jameson Chapman, 48, of Winter Avenue, Deep River, and the boy. In the video, Chapman looks like he is directing an expletive laced tirade at the boy, telling him to “get the f*** out of town.”

According to McDonald, the incident began when two boys were riding their bikes and encountered two adults, including Chapman, walking along Main Street. After words were exchanged between Chapman and one of the boys, Chapman in the video appears as though he is shoving the 11-year-old off his bicycle. The confrontation began near Family Laundromat, proceeding up Main Street towards Cumberland Farms, then made its way around River Street and High Street, according to McDonald.

Police arrested Chapman and charged him with breach of peace in the second degree, risk of injury to a child, and assault in the third degree. He was transported to Hartford Correctional Center where he was released on bond. He was scheduled to appear before the Middlesex Superior Court on July 11 (after press time).

Several videos taken by others in town witnessing the scene were submitted to Connecticut State Police Troop F who are reviewing them in an ongoing investigation of the event.

The incident came a month after the town sign on Route 154 was vandalized on June 1, with a hateful message employing racial slurs directed towards Black and Latinx people. The investigation into the sign defacement is currently ongoing, according to McDonald. He noted that while both the vandalism and assault incidents have racial aspects to them, they otherwise appear to be completely unrelated to one another.

“It is critical that we remind ourselves, and inform others, that the actions of the few individuals involved in two distinct and separate incidents do not represent the thinking of the vast majority of the people of Deep River,” McDonald said.

While separate incidents, nearly two dozen concerned citizens took to the lawn in front of Town Hall on July 1 to express their anger over what they called a rise in “racist hate.” Organizers for the rally, promoted on Facebook as “Enough is Enough — Stand Up Against Racism,” wrote “Racist hate is on the rise in Deep River…if you’re not angry, this event is not for you.”

In response to both the hate speech displayed on the town sign and the assault later in the month, the town is looking to work with community leaders and the Anti-Defamation League in scheduling a town forum and educational programs open to the community on discussing the issue of race, and will also be focused on communication and healing following these incidents.

“The reality is, I know for myself, I’m always trying to learn and do better, and I know that the community can learn and do better,” said McDonald. “This is a good opportunity to try and do that.”

McDonald said he envisions that the first forum the town hopes to host will be a community dialogue with town leaders, where residents will talk openly with one another about issues related to the events of the last month, and how to effectively respond to them as a community . The forum could create a blueprint for how the town can best move forward, which may lead to programs such as smaller group workshops. McDonald also sees discussions going beyond smaller groups as wells, specifically in possible hosting an annual conversation on race and equity, keeping in mind public support as to whether one should be hosted by the town.

“We can all do better, and this is an effort to try and do better,” McDonald stressed.

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