Updated: Jul 28
If you're wondering why the title is Girl Gone Local and I'm not writing about Albany, then you're probably not aware I grew up in a pretty small town in Northern New York called Massena. It borders Canada (Cornwall Ontario) by about five miles. The last time I wrote about my hometown was because I wanted to do something, anything, to help friends receive some kind of income during this global pandemic. I started a virtual tip sheet where people could donate a few bucks here and there to their favorite bartenders or servers. (The sheet is still active just in case St. Lawrence County shuts down again.)
I point this out because there are many things I love about my hometown - we come together in the face of adversity and challenging times, yet there is still a dark side when it comes to racism and discrimination. This is not unique to Massena. It's prevalent in many small towns and as we're seeing more and more often - large cities as well.
Today, however, I'm writing because local woman, Mel, reported a noose found in her family's yard yesterday. Mel is 21 years old and moved to Massena from Waterbury, CT when she was six. In the home live a family of seven and the youngest is 14.
I asked Mel if she has experienced a lot of racism growing up in Northern New York and her answer was yes. Most of the time she was the only black kid in her classes in the Norwood/Norfolk and Massena Central School Districts. From the time she was seven she was called "dirty", "n-word", and hypocritically, a "racist." As she got older, she would sometimes skip class to sit in the girl's bathroom and cry so she wouldn't have to face these things. She has been misidentified and accused of a crime she did not commit, and has been accused of stealing from a store when she had done nothing.
Mel details a scary story while walking home from the grocery store with her friends when she was only 18:
"I was walking down the road with my white friends from the store, and a police officer pulled over and said to my white friends “Keep going she will catch up,” in a very nice way, but as soon as they left he gave me the dirtiest look ever and said “What are you doing with those groceries, you didn’t steal them did you?” and he laughed.
I said “No sir, these are for my family. Why do you think I did this?” And he said “Most people like you steal.” At this point I was scared. He came closer to me and said “Give me your ID or you’ll be arrested for theft.” I told him he must have the wrong person because I didn’t steal them, or anything ever, but I gave him my ID anyways because he had his hand on his holster where his gun was. I didn’t want to cause any harm so I did as he was told. When he saw I wasn't the woman he was looking for, he just handed me my ID and said “Wrong black girl,” handed me my ID, and left."
Her family and many friends are concerned and want to know who did this. A report was filed over the weekend and the Massena Police Department issued a statement yesterday on July 26. To read their request for information in full, visit the MPD Facebook page. Neighbors are offering their security cameras for review, and community support looks strong.
According to New York State: "Hate crimes can be perpetrated against an individual, a group, or against public or private property. For example, hanging a noose or painting a swastika could be deemed hate crimes."
Racism is alive and well. It's in our country and our communities, and we have to stand up and deal with this. If we don't, something much more serious than a noose left in a yard is going to occur. Mel is confident this is being taken very seriously by the new MPD Chief. If you have any information at all, please call the MPD at 1-315-769-3577. It's a small town - someone knows something.
For more information on hate crimes in New York State, visit the NYS Anti-Hate Crime Resource Guide.
Friends have started a petition at to ensure authorities take this report seriously and investigate with all of the resources they have available.
Note from the family: Please do not contact the family at this time. This includes any and all press, until they state otherwise. Thank you.