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Yes it has happened again bullying of a young person has resulted in suicide; 12 year old Rebecca Sedwick threw herself off of local cement towers after being bullied both in school and on online, via Facebook. The Polk county Florida sheriff’s last straw deciding to charge two former classmates in relation to her death involved comments on their Facebook pages saying “yes I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but I don’t give a [expletive]. But unlike other headline making cases this wasn’t about sexual orientation, gender identity, less about mental illness, not about fights over boys gotten too far out of hand. It wasn’t a case mistaken for bullying that was actually about drugs, a neighborhood beef, violent juvenile offenders for which we already have diversionary programs, portrayed as a characterization of spoiled, entitled kids just now learning the meaning of consequence. Because this time something else is different too, also unlike another infamous, landmark case where only prosecutors seemed to overstep their bounds, now, today, 2013, in the post racial world of black president Obama, in the days when gay/lesbian individuals have more rights than ever before and transgender teens have at least one high school in the country where they can simply state they feel more comfortable using this genders restroom, locker room and life goes on, in an era when we are starting to recognize bullying as a problem, are really getting to solutions that work, here is a county sheriff who believes arresting and charging bullying perpetrators, 12 and 14, as felons, with whatever parts of the book he can possibly throw at them, is the answer. He thinks standing up and using his position, this case, bringing such harsh charges, ironically manipulating something called a bully pulpit, to decry parents’ parenting skills, is the answer. Sadly it isn’t that the sheriff was the one who found the 12 year old victim’s body and it shook him to his core, though it probably did, it isn’t that seeing this was seeing too much, though it easily could have been, it isn’t that he wants to do something to drastically change the devastating effects of bullying, though it’s plainly obvious he does, wants justice for a young person who didn’t have to die; it’s that he thinks destroying two more lives and the lives of their families will achieve that.

No one blames the parents of Rebecca Sedwick for agreeing to the harsh charges or finding them a deserved punishment for the child they no longer have, nor is anyone saying these instigators do not deserve to pay for their actions, possible crime. Unfortunately they have almost become secondary to the sheriff’s crusade; the Sedwick’s should, we should as, onlookers, as a society, take issue with Grady Judd acting like the anti-bullying version of Joe Arapio. We should call the flag on the pay of thundering, blustering around saying if you don’t discipline your kids, don’t worry we’ll do it for you. We should, as citizens interested in a more harmonious, civilized world, name his fear mongering for what it is, question the effectiveness of his making it very clear the next bullying case he sees will go just like this one: arresting those responsible, charging them with whatever he can get away with pining on the perpetrators, no matter how young. All ringing hollow due to the fact he seems to believe the world is comprised in the attributes of Mayberry, a place that was first and foremost fictitious , part of a television era attempting to model morals to young people and showcase the ideal over the real;  our county sheriff embodying every stereotype we have come to expect from this sector of law enforcement, sounding like a zealot using his microphone not to bring awareness to a bullying problem, not just to demonstrate what can happen from a legal standpoint when bullying has such tragic results, but doing so A- indignantly thinking he has to tell otherwise decent, upstanding parents to do their job and B- doing so doling out ill-informed, inaccurate advice mistaken it will make a difference all in their daughter’s name, their daughters memory. They should, we should be, speaking out countering his automatic, knee jerk reaction placing fault with the other parents, perpetuating a complete misunderstanding regarding the causes of bullying, attributed in his mind only to a lack of parenting, a lack of discipline in the home, his ultra-simplistic, supposed solutions on how to handle tweens, teens and technology telling them: you find these kinds of things on Facebook, take down their Facebook page, take their device away. Continuing his fantasy, saying police should never have to be involved in a situation like this because it should be handled at home, simultaneously praising the school for doing everything they could to resolve the problem by rearranging class schedules to keep the girls apart, even moving Rebecca to a different school which is apparently when the taunts poured in through cyber space.

Analyzing Mr. Judd’s assertions, it’s example after example of sounds good but it isn’t; you can’t just take their device away should you see something questionable, objectionable in their electronic activity. Similar to gun toting, laptop shooting dad, because, if it’s a computer they still have homework they have to complete requiring internet access for research; likewise such actions only apply to devices at home. There are still school computers where, if they don’t know how to hack around blocks to social media, their friends do allowing them to post on Facebook or other sites; you can say tough luck and make them utilize the public library even make them walk there, as opposed to driving them, giving them bus fare since at 12 and 14 they are too young to get jobs, thus reinforcing consequences, however it has less monitoring, restrictions and presents the perfect opportunity for them to post whatever they want sans supervision. You can downgrade your child’s phone to something that only makes and receives calls sure, but you still have to deal with other access points to technology; in addition to the school, the public library, there are friends’ houses, meeting friends, who also have computers, smartphones in places like McDonald’s with free Wi-Fi. Bringing us to taking down their Facebook page, it may seem the most logical punishment, action to take, but is rendered useless with all these places where they can create another one, post on it, possibly default to a secret Facebook page you didn’t know they had containing everything they never wanted their parents to know about, which you no longer have the passwords to and are unaware you need to check. Secondly Judd is particularly problematic presenting himself as they type of parent, advocating all parents be the type of parent who would remove the computer, remove the phone, let the child get bad grades then lecture them about that relating it to their bad choice of social media posting, resulting in an endless stream of arguments, punishments and the teen only seeing their parents as unfair dictators escalating teenage rebellion, and he expects parents, at least in his county, to follow his “example.” None of which is going to fulfill the parent mandate of concurrently making your child ready for the world, teaching them how to handle situations, scenarios, including those surrounding technology, either as a distraction or what to post and not to post accompanied by the why behind those decisions. His way teens learn nothing about why not to do something other than they got in trouble for it, and again when it’s co-ed’s, young budding professionals putting too much information on a dating site ending up kidnapped, raped, killed he’s going to be asking why parents didn’t teach them better, where theirs, their parents’ common sense was.

Further parenting according to sheriff Grady only stops the behavior by removing the means, forgetting the bullying that lead to Rebecca Sedwick’s death began in a physical setting, not a cyber one; it does nothing to discover or deal with why the offending child, teen is a bully. Are there self-esteem issues, mental health issues, problems at home, divorce, parents always fighting, someone drinking or abusing substances, homelessness, food insecurity; all potential triggers, precursors to bullying. Evidence backed up by a forum project known as interview your bully; person after person who doesn’t remember tormenting the other individual just the divorce their parents were going through, just having been the new kid and being desperate to fit in, being bullied themselves before lashing out. Concepts that support one school who took an unconventional approach to solving their bullying problem by finding out who the bullies were and reaching out to them, finding out what stressors they were under, what was going on in their lives, leading to school officials helping bullies solve their problems, making the bullying disappear. Of course too, he seems like a man typical of his age bracket, his era possessing an emotional quotient, like his technology quotient, on par with that of a single celled ameba, so he has no idea that seemingly insignificant slights can lead to bullying, has done no investigation into the true, authentic reasons behind bullying to read the overwhelming study findings substantiating bullying is a symptom exposing a much larger problem, especially in kids. He doesn’t understand how easily a social media page can be hacked or why someone would want to do that; did he even have a forensic computer specialist look at the computer to negate or confirm the 14-year-old’s claim her page was hacked, his predictable behavior pattern says no. Why because he didn’t believe the parents when they said they monitor their child’s phone and online activity.  Proving simultaneously the biggest red flag about a law enforcement officer dubbed Sheriff America is, he isn’t interested in lasting solutions to bullying in schools, workplaces, wherever it may be found, rather only interested in punishment. Hints why he kept looking for something to charge the parents with in response to what they “permitted their children to do;” interestingly enough not for endangering the welfare of a child, in light of what happened to Rebecca, not for contributing to the delinquency of a minor based on, at least the idea, they encouraged their daughter to bully the victim, nonchalantly let it happen under their noses, but for failing to check their child’s Facebook page, co-opting parents across the nation, wishing he could arrest any and every one for failing to understand they should.

And next, because the story reads these extremely young girls charged as felons, the story has become, sheriff with a history of inserting himself into controversial cultural issues, attempting to be America’s moral compass decides to take a stronger stand against bullying, we don’t even know why they said they did this, why they didn’t like her, why they posted such horrible comments; one reading “you should just drink bleach and die.” He for all intents and purposes didn’t ask, thought he already knew, had already taken on the role of judge, jury and executioner. In his mind finding them guilty of the charges he could file and more within his conscience, completely uninterested in the whole story. Dangerous really considering that in every high profile, splattered on the news, bullying leads to death, bullying inspires court appearance case there was always a much more complicated story than initial media reported. When the shocking YouTube video of a young girl lured to a classmates house and beaten went viral the assailants were deemed down right evil according to public opinion, it chalked up to random hooliganism perpetrated by an out of control generation obsessed with fame, yet when CBS News dug deeper they found the girls questioned by police were laughing, talking about cheerleading practice indicating their adolescent age, a lack of understanding of the seriousness of what they had done. In short, demonstrating exactly why we have a juvenile justice system. Motive behind the beating that left the victim traumatized, facing permanent vision damage, to humiliate her as they believed she previously humiliated them by posting the beating online for everyone to see; duly noted is the video disseminated to news outlets nationwide doesn’t look like the attack should have resulted in the level of injury it did. When ABC News interviewedDharun Ravi we find out there was no intent to bully Tyler Clementi and certainly not because he was gay, instead a concern about the shifty person in their shared rooms. Nor was there, contrary to online postings, a huge viewing party essentially outing Clementi to the entire world, entire school as a gay person; adding to the possibility Ravi had little to do with his roommate’s eventual suicide, Clementi’s own online postings feeling unaccepted by his parents when  he came out to them. We’ve seen this brand of small town, shoddy police work before, fanatics convinced they have their man or woman, usually resulting in persons spending years languishing in prison for something they didn’t do, dying by whatever the state’s choice of execution; thank God the stakes here are not that high. Forcing readers to the conclusion sheriff Judd would not have believed the girls had they explained why.

Elaborating on the awful comments, his reaction demonstrates he has a fundamental misunderstanding of how people, young or old, use social media; we’ve never seen anybody get mad and regret posting something, we’ve never seen someone exaggerate, it couldn’t be when the girl made the comment not caring about having bullied Rebecca Sedwick she was simply trying to maintain her online persona, cover her guilt, because we’ve never seen that in fully grown adults, never mind pubescent teens and tweens; except yes we have on all counts. It couldn’t be a comment based on the fact she didn’t know Rebecca that well, only remembered her as someone who didn’t mesh with her friends, who got her in trouble for bullying. That couldn’t possibly be it; though it sounds more like adolescent behavior than the psychopathy attributed to parallel incidents. Going to another questionable conclusion to be heavily weighed in what happens to these now defendants, did they mean what they posted in the context he assumes; teens are by nature prone to dramatics, making everything a big deal, especially from the viewpoint of adults. They also use serious phrases lightly, too lightly in the eyes of many observing parents, educators translating into they may have said you should go kill yourself as an indication of the bad social situation she was in, regarding incidents with friends or fellow students at school, not because it was an outcome they desired, not because it was something that they expected to happen. Along those same lines, when they suggested she kill herself, when they stated she should drink bleach and die, did they do so believing she would take it as a directive, an instruction, something she should literally do, did they have a reasonable expectation she would follow their words as if they were directions, probably not. Could some of Rebecca’s anguish and torment been due to a misunderstanding of what these girls were trying to get across; sadly it’s too late to find out. Now we, for the most part, as adults know here is also a reason you don’t say, post hurtful words, things, unfounded claims about people wherever you are, no matter what medium you use, because you don’t know how the other person will receive what you say. Here is one of the downsides of electronic vs. face to face communication where you can receive cues, clues to how what you’re saying is being interpreted via body language, facial expression, tone of voice, demeanor, quickly correct misinterpretations, alert the person as to how serious or not you were when you said it, alert them it was a joke, an expression, figure of speech, become aware the person doesn’t respond well to that type of humor, but at 12 and 14 did they fully understand that, doubtful.

Continuing yes it would be wonderful if everything was handled in the home a-la 50-6 0 years ago, it would be fantastic if police were never involved in these types of cases, but even back when father purportedly knew best and the majority of families looked like Leave It to Beaver’s, there was an astounding rate of alcoholism, domestic violence, sexual abuse, swept under the rug never talked about, home, society wasn’t theidyllicplace we thought it was. This is key taking into account the stepmother of the 14 year old was arrested and later charged with child abuse. Charges, by all indications, still very much legitimate despite the dogged approach of the officer heading the case, his single minded determination to hold these parent’s accountable, stemming from a video found on her daughter’s Facebook page showing the mother assaulting one child as others watched. Looking at her probable home life we don’t know if the mother, who at the very least has no comprehension of what you should and should not let someone take video of, post online hacked her daughters Facebook page, or, using the password she insisted she have as a parent, modified the page with the comments because she was tired of dealing with the bullying situation, she had too many other kids to deal with and saw getting her daughter put in juvenile detention as a way to get her out of the house. Remember she is a step mother; the 14 year old may be the only child from the father’s previous relationship, so who knows what dynamics that introduces. Yet again, instead of using it as an education tool for himself, then giving what he learned to the public, see here we have a bully, here we have a destructive home life causing her to lash out; he tells press he suspected the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, implying she learned to treat people this way because her mother condoned it, hailing it as proof the mother never monitored her daughter’s Facebook page, as if that is any longer the point. The larger picture is a girl being abused, ignored at home, bullying students at school in an attempt to gain some power over an uncontrollable life elsewhere, to regain self-esteem shattered by her step mother or to cope with unmanageable stress; the broader conversation is a self-righteous, self-appointed morals dictator who has a sign in his yard reading Mayberry, trying to take us all back there, possessing no earthly clue as to how things really happened, what an appropriate punishment should be that satisfies the consequence portion of justice and ensures both girls come out of the experience remaining able to offer something positive to society. In fact by elevating the charges to felony grade he has, in essence, sealed their fate making it harder for them to get an education potentially denied federal grant money, multiplied their chances of only holding minimum wage jobs should their record follow them, juvenile or not, coupled with the aforementioned obstacles to education. Almost guaranteed is these very young girls spending an amount of time in juvenile detention, a place notorious for young people not being rehabilitated, not proven to be scared straight, just learning more thug, criminal skills. The bigger picture is a school praised for doing everything right in separating the bullies from the bullied, having consequences, even moving the victim to another school, while apparently leaving 2 other suffering students to fend for themselves bearing no responsibility in anyone’s eyes, particularly not the sheriff so shaken by finding Rebecca that ill-fated day.   

Where was the intervention, the counseling, the diversionary program, anger management for the bullies in the interest of getting to the core issues underlying the taunting?  Similar to the  actual truth behind the horrifying  Phoebe Prince case, detailing no one sat her parents down and had a frank discussion about their daughter’s probable mental illness, strong need for an alternative school environment, how her interactions with boys, who already had girlfriends, her flirtatious, unpredictable behavior was fueling her being a target, no one clearly putting together the depths of her mental health history, aware of medication she was taking on the victims side; now on the bully side, it’s a tragedy of where was anyone, in Polk county, Rebecca’s middle school from school resource officer, to crisis counselor asking a basic question of why either implicated girl did this. After ensuring Rebecca’s safety and wellbeing during school hours, setting up needed counseling or other services for her, where were any of the above individuals responsible for the welfare all children in their care, going back to the bullies and mandating counseling if they were going to continue to attend school, giving them alternative conflict resolution techniques; because, that’s how you fix these problems once and for all, not by creating more criminals. Delving deeper into what was really troubling these tween, teen girls, perhaps based on information revealed in counseling, would have prompted a social services investigation into these young people’s home lives to make sure they were ok, uncovering the abuse the 14 year old suffered, possibly stopping bullying from graduating to tragedy; if only. An especially glaring oversight when schools have over and over willingly become defacto parents to students, schools have done their best to override matters of parental choice across the country, meddled, for good or ill, from eliminating non-healthy birthday treats and school birthday parties, dictating what children can bring in their lunch for safety’s sake, to telling parents not to let kids under a certain age have a social media page, installing honor codes, removing school credits and extracurricular activities for minor, midlevel violations even off school grounds. Where were you Grady Judd in truly attempting to find out how this happened instead of writing off the perpetrators as undisciplined, spoiled brats; a contradiction since the parents of the other girl, 12, took responsibility for their child’s actions and you stopped talking about them? Obviously he had no trouble finding the Facebook posts that made his blood boil so hot he decided to charge them, and as felons on top of it, so why did it take so much longer to find the Facebook video showing the 14 year old he was so angry at for not owning the behavior, her family for not using, by his definition, proper discipline was an abusive one where the girl herself was likely bullied? Why didn’t, why haven’t the charges changed taking into account the new information he gathered indicating mitigating circumstances, because like many other points throughout the piece aimed at the truth, let’s be real for one second; while it can easily be said the bullying contributed to suicide, these girls were not atop the cement towers daring her to jump, they didn’t stand idly by watching it take place. Unlike more impulsive suicides hanging in bathrooms, bedrooms for example, the victim made, at minimum, a semi-conscious choice to go to those towers and do this, made a final decision walking by them on the way to school; however it happened, it happened outside the confines of her bedroom, a secluded place in her home where she sees something on her computer, just snaps and the rest becomes a tear filled headline.

Once more there are a thousand ways this ends without the death, without two other teens charged as felons, lives derailed and not all of them encompass just stopping bullying, not all of them center around sending the message you do this, you go to jail, mandating parents pay attention to social media activity, alert for this brand of dangerous behavior. On the other side where was someone in 12 year old Rebecca’s life seeing she was too sensitive, vulnerable, troubled or too immature for a Facebook page at the current time; where was anyone in her life checking her Facebook page, imparting steps she could take to block the bullying users from contacting her using Facebook’s own features, telling her to either save and print the insults for evidence of continued harassment to take to the police or to delete and ignore the comments.  Saying simply if it upsets you that much don’t go on Facebook, telling her to let the whole thing die down then she could go back, making sure she’s not checking their pages to see what they say about her, as it will only invite pain. Her parents too were well aware of the bullying, the effect on their child, even taking the step of petitioning the school district to have her moved to a different school; how could they not be on the lookout for both the online targeting and signs of  extreme distress including thoughts of suicide? An added layer of should be protection once again missing, once again creating the building blocks to a tragedy that didn’t have to be. Truth be told no one involved with this case got it right, for all that we have seen, we have learned nothing least of all how to handle bullying, that the bullies too are victims of something, need something and not just an orange jumpsuit, and until we recognize that fact, start treating the whole problem, we are doomed to have it repeated.