Friday, July 23, 2010

Where does it end?

becoming unwrapped

When I first saw the reports that bullying was blamed for the suicide of a South Hadley High School student, I thought there must be more to the story than a three-month barrage of slurs from some mean (and arguably jealous) girls over the affections of some boys.

The suicide of a teenager is a tragic event. The fact that she suffered taunts and mistreatment before she died is additionally heartbreaking. Most people who have children would want atonement.

Yet, what was in print about the case, or said in front of cameras, to me anyway, seemed pretty typical of teenage taunts. Still, six students faced felony charges in connection with her death and the court of public opinion agreed.

Still, I can't help but wonder why.

Are none of us parents of imperfect children? Or are all the children who say mean things other people's kids? Kids who weren't raised to know right from wrong?

Ugly, yes; Shameful, certainly; appropriate, not in the least; but neither are the words they are accused of hurling beyond the pale in the power-struggle that pits one adolescent against another in the race to grow up faster. The desire to be more popular.

This week Slate released a story delving into the mental history of Prince, and included a fairly detailed timeline and description of what transpired between the teen and her alleged tormenters in the weeks leading up to Prince's death. Portions of it citing unreleased court documents supplied to defense attorneys.

The facts of the story don't seem to be in dispute.

Nevertheless, reaction in the Boston Herald from a former prosecutor (calling the Slate story a leak by defense attorneys that amounts to legal bullying) as well as commenters' outrage indicate that facts of Prince's mental state prior to the incidents are either irrelevant or confirm the heinous nature of the six defendants' behavior.

I know in the end a court will decide the guilt or innocence of the six defendants, and that it will do so based on legal definitions and rules of evidence. The victim's state of mind may have no bearing on the culpability of those accused of bullying her to death ... but in the meantime I can't stop myself from speculating where this all could lead.

Maybe making meanness a felony offense in high-profile cases will force our society to care more for each other. Stand up for those who need our protection. Maybe it will eliminate frustration and self doubt and loathing. It may even end the careers of some political bull(y) dogs.

The silence would sure be nice.

Or maybe it will lead to the assumption that words, based on their definitions alone, will be reason enough for imprisonment.


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