If Polk county Florida sheriff Grady Judd was shocked and outraged by the bullying/suicide death of Rebecca Sedwick, what he found on the perpetrators Facebook pages enough to parade their pictures around and charge them with felonies, it must be nothing compared to the outrage felt by the nation now as one, if not both defendants, have had their charges dropped. Many are disgusted bullying today gets to lead to death and the young persons responsible can now “cry a few crocodile tears” escaping punishment; saying they won’t learn anything from the experience are even apt to repeat it. However sheriff Judd’s demeanor and approach, bordering on zealotry, along with his ultimate decision to charge them with felonies was controversial from the get go; though stopping short of charging them as adults, his stance indicates he would have if he could have conceivably gotten away with it. Beyond his history of attempting to be a nation’s moral compass, inserting himself into hot button social issues, cases about those topics was, the almost immediate blame he placed on the parents of the accused, parents across America for not checking social media pages, his booming admonishment that if you don’t discipline your kids, don’t worry we’ll do it for you. Naively asserting the police should never be called into a bulling case because it should he handled at home coupled with his over simplistic parenting advice is probably why we have an apparent miscarriage of justice. Further it serves as a warning to law enforcement across the country, small town, big city, federal, state, county, court, police officer, sheriff, detective, prosecutor, charge potential criminals with charges befitting the crime according to the law; not according to your gut feeling, not according to how loudly your moral compass is screaming and not based on how neglected you think the issue is in the court of public opinion or how lightly you think it’s being treated from a judicial standpoint, especially in dealing with kids.
In an obvious attempt to save face in his local office, as an individual officer of the law, protect his division of law enforcement Mr. Judd said he was pleased with the outcome of the case elaborating that the defendants would now get the counseling, psychological help they needed; leaving onlookers with the two burning questions. For the shocked people who see this as an abomination, a slight to a dead young person’s life cut all too short needlessly, it’s where is the justice; for others it’s where was your understanding of the need for counseling, psychological help when you were tauntingly parading their pictures in front of local and national press, mocking parenting in general, blaming their parents for this tragedy, hounding everyone in listening distance about discipline? Simultaneously, telling us to take our children’s devices away if we saw this kind of behavior symbolizing an end to the problem according to a man dubbed sheriff America; concurrently alerting media to just who and how out of touch you are by showcasing the sign reading Mayberry prominent in your front yard. If all that was required under his initial statements about the case, about what these young bullies did, drove another human being to was more discipline, more effective parenting as opposed to complacency, potentially egging it on, why does he suddenly believe there is need for psychological help, counseling services instead of a mandatory stent in juvenile detention? Why is he not decrying, like members of the public, how soft the justice system has gone on such devastating crime, if his whole agenda, his whole point was to take a tougher stand on bullying, to send a message? Could it be because he had it all wrong, or at least half wrong to begin with, and where are the deeper questions asked just as forcefully, just as authoritatively to press looking for comment, about where we go from here what can, should and must to be done in Polk country, nationwide to effectively handle bullying, both on a preventive scale as well as after the fact? The truth is they are nowhere because the sheriff got his behind handed to him and ended up justifiably with egg on his face after his deplorable reaction to this particular bullying case; worse, disseminating his arcane, ineffective, unproductive views to the public dealing body blows to the cause of eventually eradicating bullying. Addressing public outcry, at issue in dropping the charges is not whether the defendants deserve punishment, whether they bear some responsibility in what happened to their former classmate, nor is it that bullies cannot be punished under the law, but whether the charges filed in this case, per the state of Florida, actually line up with the crime committed. Adding in the sheriff’s blatant ‘I’m going to make an example out of you’ attitude and not only does that become the case, not Rebecca Sedwick, but is it any wonder no one would touch it with a ten foot pole, fearing it would be rightly overturned on appeal due to the bias of the officer bringing the charges?
Had sheriff Judd done equal parts adequate investigation, research into bullying dynamics and charged the alleged committers of the crime appropriately, rather than trying to throw the book at them while throwing the public into a time warp al-la 50-60 years ago, it might have been a completely different outcome; one that still included a punishment to satisfy justice and the counseling, life skills, mental health treatment rendering these young girls functional members of society. Instead he very early on wrote off the “alleged criminals” and their parents, left no indications he delved into the possibility the 14 year olds internet page was hacked; in fact gloating he expedited the arrest of both young girls based on singular Facebook post by the older of the two, stating she bullied Rebecca, she killed herself and the girl didn’t care, ending in an expletive. Firstly, never mind that has nothing to do with the 12 year old also subsequently charged; secondly, perhaps aggravated stalking was the wrong charge from the outset, as it appears this was on the 14 year olds personal Facebook page not on a memorial page for Rebecca, on a page specifically created by either of them to torment, shame, discredit her or a posting to Rebecca’s personal page, contained in a message sent only to her. Note too it’s aggravated stalking not specifically cyber stalking, though the offense he found so irreprehensible involved the computer/social media postings purportedly pushing her to suicide. Elevating to felony grade only plays into the lawyer being able to point to Grady Judd as a possible bully himself, using emotional extortion, exaggerated threat of punishment to get them to admit they helped kill this girl. Precisely when taking that usual, that extra, time would have uncovered the video, also on the 14 year olds Facebook page, showing her stepmother abusing one child while others watch, eventually leading to her charges of child abuse; precisely when moving past your first impressions, your first thoughts would have significantly changed the narrative given to the public surrounding this case. It would have quickly been less about brandishing their pictures like wanted posters, making them out to be monsters, bashing supposedly subpar parenting, and far more to the point, more importantly how an entire community managed to so miserably fail one young person who is dead and two other young people implicated in the death. It would have consisted largely of community introspection, in depth scrutiny of how exactly the abuse of the oldest defendant flew under the radar of everyone meant to protect her and the other minor members of her household, how she was disciplined by the school, they dealt with her parents and never noticed something the slightest bit off, separated the girls from Rebecca but offered no counseling, mediation, conflict resolution on their end to truly attempt to resolve the problem, key in effectively handling bullying incidents. Still the sheriff became aware of the arguably extenuating circumstances regarding the 14 year old, was always aware of the lesser part played by the 12 year old and neither the charges for one nor his interpretation of the case, as a whole, changed. The exact opposite actually, he used the existence of the video posted online as common sense, intuitive, irrefutable proof the stepmother never monitored her daughter’s Facebook page as she claimed. “Evidence” lapped up by a by a punishment hungry public undiscerning of what is truthfully unfolding before their eyes, completely unwilling to use their seemingly limited critical thinking skills.
Confused people asking how is that not the definition of a bully when you have an authority figure, particularly one mandated to uphold the law, seek justice standing in front of press basically saying ha, ha I have proof you didn’t monitor anything, and what did I say about the apple not falling from the tree? Literally blaming a probably abused 14 year old for being a victim of not her step mother’s inattention, her cavalier attitude towards bullying, but her cold, callous, looks to be violent treatment of children; because, if she abused one child in the house, she likely abused them all to a certain degree. At the very least there is the emotional impact visited on the 14 year old watching this, potentially trying to protect siblings; realities better explaining her tendency toward bullying than blasé parenting, something law enforcement across the board should know just by being aware of headline court cases throughout recent years. More legal minded, logical persons reacting to the charge dismissal highlighted a good point on the victim’s side; there seemed to be no restraining order and without a restraining order there might be difficulty in getting past the first amendment, since the postings represented no immediate threat. Similar cases parallel the difference between public and private profiles on social media sites like MySpace, Facebook; were her page settings set to private, had she used the site’s features to block her two tormenters later arrested? And if not, why not; at the same time they were transferring her to another school Rebecca’s parents should have been monitoring her Facebook page, made sure her profile was private, she’d blocked the two ringleaders, then approached police if it continued, filing either a restraining order or ex-parte as a measure to both put a stop to it and punish them if they broke said order. Not doing so is the electronic equivalent of leaving your doors unlocked and wondering why you have unwanted houseguests, things stolen from you. Next surprisingly, considering the vigor with which this case was taken on, only one charge was filed against the accused where an additional one or two could have insured a proper conviction. Taking into account relevant facts, where was the cooperation between the sheriff’s office and prosecutors, working with the judge once a guilty verdict was reached, possibility of a plea deal insisting on a maximum sentence under a lesser charge for the 14 year old and a moderate sentence under a lesser charge for the 12 year old stipulating counseling, psychological evaluation, empathy training or other program aimed at aiding these two young people in not being lifelong delinquents, not giving them the feeling they got away with something, but not destroying them either, things easily done under the juvenile justice system. Again dropping the charges was never about prosecutors unable to stomach bringing punishment to bear, operating in the mindset of kids will be kids, seeing nothing wrong with their behavior culminating in the tragic outcome, and had everything to do with dropping the charges because they were misapplied in the first place.
Contrary to recognizing any of the above, all that implies is Grady Judd crowing his victory over bullying, despite majority perception, asking had they not made an arrest would these children now be receiving the help they need? His answer no; larger question, why did they have to be processed through the criminal justice system to benefit from psychological services? Why is it in many pockets of the country you have to have already gotten into trouble to be eligible for some programs even at the juvenile level; a phenomenon most widely made known by the author of a blog post titled ‘I Am Adam Laza’s Mother’ who opened her home, her story and her struggle to help her mentally ill son to a PBS documentary crew. These should have been proffered through the school, community resources availed to them once it was confirmed the accusations of bullying were legitimate; because, bullying should have been seen as the red flag symptom indicating psychological, emotional distress that it was. Someone, school guidance counselor, crisis counselor, school resource officer should have immediately taken an interest in these two young girls, not in watching them the way you would be wary of trouble makers, but to try and understand what was going on, looking into what they knew of their home lives, tried to talk to them through mandated counseling and help them, not just punish, punish, punish and nothing else before it became a tragedy. If the parents were disinclined to get their child help, see there was a problem or, as it turned out, were an abusive problem, then it was time to contact social services and have them intervene. Ideas sheriff Judd should have been championing loudly from the beginning, should still be advocating in light of the charge dismissal substituting his diatribe on inattentive, indulgent, parenting, which was never the issue fueling what happened. Why do we insist on punishment apart from all else when we hear stories like this; bad childhoods also are nothing new when it comes to defending assailants young, old, in between, and sadder still, are often too true influencers of future actions, so why is our sheriff so surprised it could be the missing link behind the instinct to bully? Why does he think every parent/child relationship looks like Opie and Andy Taylor applying fiction to a mythological heyday in American history; with all he has seen, thinking in the 21st century all bullying can be resolved at home and police don’t have to deal with anything horrible? Once more facts are utterly lost on a leader in law enforcement epitomizing country bumpkin, showcasing the danger to this out of date disregard for medical and social truths way of characterizing illegal behavior and justice to a society at large taking their cues, information from him and people like him.
Bringing us to confronting public comment, if onlooker assumptions are remotely correct and the older girl implicated is indeed showing signs she could be a sociopath, it doesn’t make Mr. Judd a hero for standing up to bullying “as the crime it is,” it makes him what he has always been, another part of the problem. Because, sociopathic behavior isn’t something solved by stricter, more effective, more traditional, old school, down home parenting, it isn’t something you can go alone as a parent; it is a clinical mental health diagnosis whose only proper treatment is competent evaluation, medication and cognitive/behavioral therapy administered by a qualified professional or professionals, rendering sheriff America’s comments even more ludicrous than previously thought. Likewise the commenters scoffing at counseling as a consequence, punishment, asking disbelievingly about prison on the premise of showing them what can happen when you are an adult; except prison doesn’t work. Prison only ever does the following child or adult; teach more, the escalation of criminal skills, inflict psychological damage via violence, sexual assault and consistent dehumanization, being locked in a cage for months or years on end. Upon release, they have trouble reintegrating into society because the drug problem that got them arrested for theft was never dealt with, on top of the lingering effects of the abuse they suffered as a child, the environment the juvenile knows they will be returned to, there is the trauma, anger resentment boiling within them about their experiences in prison, juvenile detention. A paramount aspect when you become aware of how many criminals will do anything to avoid going back to jail/prison including commit greater offenses running from the cops, one man recently who started a standoff after an argument with family gone wrong where, on his second strike, he feared going back to prison for life. Going straight, getting your life together isn’t nearly as easy as those who have never been arrested think it is; with a record employers refuse to hire, you are the first person the cops come to question particularly for some crimes or as a juvenile, felony convictions at the adult level can block access to education, employment opportunities, just to name a few complications of having a police record. To be clear counseling is never punishment nor was it meant to be in this case; punishment was lost here when the charges filed were so far outweighing the crime, when an officer’s blatant bias got in the way of bringing 2 young offenders to justice. Counseling was used in this scenario in lieu of punishment considering what they were arrested for, based on the information surrounding at least one of these young people’s lives.
Continuing we don’t have justice for Rebecca; we don’t have a solid example to show young people the consequences of bullying if you are the aggressor, we don’t have a springboard to further the discussion on bullying, real, tangible solutions not because of overall social views, ingrained nonchalant attitudes towards the topic but because of one man Grady Judd, who decided to go on a crusade rather than focus on the case in front of him. We don’t have a solid perception change on what causes bullying, what the fitting punishment should be for a bully even when it goes as far as being indirectly responsible for a person’s death because, in all honesty, we ourselves are a nation of bullies. Putting aside our negatively conceptualized meddling in other countries, we have people in power like Mr. Judd who not only threw his weight around in questioning these 2 young offenders, but threw his weight around in front of press cameras trying to co-opt society at large into his way of thinking accentuating the idea the only way to deal with a bully is to bully them back with excessive punishment. Plus every time a case like this comes to light citizens in America, people who find what transpired absolutely horrible, whatever it was, pick a headline in the last 10-20 years where adolescents, teens were responsible and inevitably the comments surrounding what they think should happen to these people for committing the crime ranges from mutilation, maiming, castration, lighting on fire, tar and feathering, rape, beating. Absolutely gruesome descriptions that are not just illegal under laws against assault, battery exc., but are illegal under the very constitution of the United States prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment, to say nothing exactly as immoral, perhaps more so than what the offender themselves did. This is why we still see an epidemic of bullying, suicides related to it; because, we fail to understand the only institutional programs that work prison, jail, juvenile detention, specialized schools are the ones that blend punishment and rehabilitation through job/trade skills, counseling/treatment for substance abuse, mental illness, anger management. We fail to see a lot of these issues can be nipped in the bud by being proactive schools and other entities doing what they were mandated to do as underscored thought the reading; had the school, social services stepped up, we would be reading a much different story about Rebecca Sedwick.