I posted this to an LJ discussion linked to me by an LJ friend, and I’ve added onto it for here.
While we assign blame to this person or that person, the question I have is not about that at all, though it is important. The most important question, as I see it, is where do we go from here? Who will stand up when a co-worker, when a student, loved one, or just as good, a stranger, is bullied? How many more kids like these do we need? How many more people like Justin Aaberg or Tempest Smith do we need (the latter killed herself after being bullied for being a Wiccan) before we act?
I am going to say this: as a victim of bullying that left deep scars on me and in me, zero tolerance policies do not work and often further victimize the victims of bullying. They simply do not work. What does work, in my experience, is when others stand up to bullies. What does work is when the person is empowered to defend themselves, whether it is reporting a problem and actually having a teacher ACT on it, or being able to physically defend yourself without repercussion or with reduced repercussions.
What our public school systems do to bullied kids is deplorable; the student has no options if they want to avoid detention or long-term (10-day where I came from) suspension for fighting. Yet, they are plunged into a world where the teachers ignore their bullies, where their school staff ignores their problems when brought to them continuously, and where the student is blamed if they dare retaliate. This culture blames the victim, and it makes it even easier to do when you say “but it was your choice”. Maybe the final act of desperation is a choice…but when you look at what these students had to go through, when their spheres of influence are shrunk so much, when they’re put through such abuse, how many avenues do you think they’ll see or care about?
This gets to the heart of a lot of issues for me. I despise injustice so much because I’ve lived in it a good portion of my life; my home life was safe and secure, for the most part, but my neighborhood was dangerous, and I was bullied there and at school. I’m not going to mince words: when you’re in school, that school becomes your life. I was in school for anywhere between 8-14 hours a day, depending on how close it was to Performance Week for Drama Club. School was very-much my life in high school. It pretty-much rules your every day when you’re a student…even as a college student. What happens on campus affects you; you don’t leave it at the door (especially if you live on-campus), it comes with you because it is more or less a part of your everyday reality. There is no barrier for the stress beyond the weekend, and if I got anything like what these kids got for bullying, weekends were a Godsend, but the Sunday was the second-worst day to the Monday.
So when your everyday becomes a constant rain of insults and blows, mental and/or physical (usually both for me) you tend to stop giving a shit about ‘letting it slide off your back’. You want power, at that point. You want to make them pay or get out of the situation. A lot of people go for the second option; I did. I started cutting myself and thinking on and trying to commit suicide around ages 10-14. I finally stopped when I beat the shit out of the person that was bullying me and it all stopped. I had beaten the shit out of a 6’7″ 250 lb. mostly-muscle front-runner freshman on the Varsity football team. And I at the time was a 200 lb 5’5″ chunky kid in a brown trenchcoat. Then people looked at me like I was psychotic. But, mysteriously, suddenly, the bullying stopped and people let me be.
Amazing what happens when you are given the means to take back power: my folks had taken me to martial arts for 7 years, from first through eighth grade. However, my instructors of Choi Kwang Do came after me when I got in trouble in the school for using it to defend myself around fourth grade. So, Dad took it upon himself to train me in a multitude of disciplines he’d been taught good pieces of the art in: Tung Soo Do, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, and some others. He told me not to use the moves unless I needed to…but I’d never been taught when I’d need to, and I still had a head full of programming to not use what I knew. One day, after nearly getting my eye gouged out by a switchblade, my folks told me to stop holding back, and do what I had to. A year after this conversation I beat the hell out of the lead bully who had abused me since 1st grade until the year I stopped him: just before the end of my 8th grade year.
Mind that I had been bullied literally every single day since around the 4th grade. The daily regimen was verbal teasing and shoving getting on the bus, sometimes a punch or two, and getting my ass kicked after we got off the bus. The kids would get off the bus, around 40-60 of them, circle up around me, and all 8 of the bullies would take turns punching me and kicking me, kneeing me in the face or stomach…until they got bored. Then I went home. After the first week or two I stopped talking about it, because nothing could or was being done. School administration failed me, hell, cops in the neighborhood used to STOP AND WATCH and then drive off…
I’m not surprised these kids committed suicide. I’m furious. I’m angry. It’s the same kind of shit I went through, no one giving these kids the hand or the hope they needed. I had God when I was going through my bullying. I had people that listened, at the least. These kids, from what I’ve read, barely had that. The whole of society is arranged against these kids. I didn’t know what that was like. I didn’t know what it was to have someone who devoutly loves their God to look at you and say, in the midst of your pain, that you deserve it because you’re an abomination from God. Suddenly, you’re less than human. Abomination. Is it any wonder these kids chose their end? What has been done the them is disgusting…I hope my son never has to go through this kind of crap.