What would you do if you were the principal of a school in which a boy’s brother records on his cell phone camera the boy getting out of the car, walking up to an unsuspecting Billy Wolfe waiting at a bus stop, punching him hard enough to leave a fist-size welt on his forehead and then showing the video around the school? What would you do when Billy gets beaten up in the bathroom or on the school bus or in shop class or in Spanish class or has a harassing facebook page directed at him? What would you do if that violence and brutality went on for three years?
What would you do if you were the parents of the bullies?
In his column in the New York Times, “A Boy the Bullies Love to Beat Up, Repeatedly,” Dan Barry documents what really was done. In Fayetteville, Arkansas, the authorities did nothing at all or nothing effective. Mostly, they said it was Billy’s fault. They blamed the victim. The school bus incident was on tape but the Principal suspended Billy and only days later watched the tape and showed Billy’s parents that their son was innocent.
Because the authorities and administrators didn’t stop the bullies, it went on three years and it’s still going on now.
Of course, the school district mouths platitudes about a program to promote tolerance and respect, and protecting the identity of the perpetrators. They try to convert bullies, but they don’t stop bullies first. The district doesn’t want to get sued. That seems more important than doing anything effective. Maybe they’ll do something if Billy’s parents sue the district.
The kids at school all know what’s going on. They know that the legitimate authorities have turned their backs and given the bullies a free hand. When the responsible authorities allow bullies to control the turf, they allow violence and scape-goating, harassment and brutality.
Billy may have tried to fight back, but that doesn’t make him the problem. That just makes him one child against a gang. And with the size disparity that often happens in middle school and high school, he can’t win without adult help. When his parents went to the schools, way back at the beginning when it was only threats, the district wouldn’t act.
I’m sensitive to principals that don’t protect the victims because I’m from Denver. Remember Columbine High School. Have those ignorant, cowardly principals in Fayetteville not learned anything. There are many schools in the country in which bullying isn’t tolerated because the principals won’t tolerate it and, therefore, their teachers and staff won’t either. And they’re bound by the same laws as in Fayetteville.
Shame on those adults. They have shamed their community.