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'We need to be louder': Crowd in Portsmouth calls for justice in attack against Black man

Tanisha Johnson with Black Lives Matter New Hampshire was among the people to speak Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, in protest of a recent attack against Mamadou Dembele (in red jacket) in downtown Portsmouth last month.
Dan Tuohy
Tanisha Johnson with Black Lives Matter New Hampshire was among the people to speak Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, in protest of a recent attack against Mamadou Dembele (in red jacket) in downtown Portsmouth.

Standing on the site of Portsmouth’s African Burying Ground memorial in a cold drizzle, dozens of people gathered Sunday to protest and call attention to a recent alleged assault against a Black resident of the city.

The New Hampshire Attorney General's civil rights unit is investigating the attack against Mamadou Dembele, a vice president at Bangor Savings Bank, the night before Thanksgiving in downtown Portsmouth.

At Sunday’s gathering — which served as both a protest and a call to action — leaders from New Hampshire’s Black community spoke about the dangers and fears that people of color face in the state, and urged prosecutors to investigate the attack as a hate crime.

“Although not many of us are targeted in such a brutal and outrageous manner, most Black men in New Hampshire carry ourselves as if Mr. Dembele's assault was a possibility,” said Rev. Bob Thompson, who leads the Seacoast chapter of the NAACP. “We need to manage this anxiety every day — an exhausting and necessary reality."

Portsmouth Assistant Mayor Joanna Kelley, the first Black person to serve in that role, reminded the crowd that a business she owns in the city was targeted with antisemitic and racist vandalism earlier this year. She said that to fight hate and extremism, advocates need to be vocal about the reality of racism in New Hampshire.

“It is our duty to stand out on rainy, cold days like today, and to be loud and say, ‘We will not go quietly; we will not be victims,’ ” Kelley said. “We will be stories told again and again of triumphant victory, of knowing that our community does not welcome this, but that we need to be louder.”

“When you see something, you must say something,” Kelley said, “because silence only lets it grow.”

Dembele attended Sunday's gathering, using a cane and wearing a support brace on one leg, but did not speak publicly. In a statement, he said the words used by his attacker left no doubt that his race was the motivation behind the assault.

Sunday’s vigil included representatives from local NAACP chapters, Black Lives Matter New Hampshire, the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire ACLU and the New Hampshire Center for Justice and Equity.

The protest drew attendees from across the state, including Kira Morehouse of Manchester. She said she is acquainted with Dembele through work, and also volunteers on anti-racism issues through her church.

“I just feel it’s important to show visibility and solidarity when things like this happen, because people think or say things like this don’t happen here, but they are happening here,” Morehouse said. “I like to focus on there being a way forward, and the more people show up when things happen like this, the easier it becomes to see a path forward.”

According to the Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth Police Chief Mark Newport has said state investigators have taken over the case as the incident may involve a former employee of Portsmouth's police department. A spokesperson for the New Hampshire Attorney General would not confirm that Sunday.

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