Tag: Bullying

The Heckler’s Veto

A few weeks ago, the 9th Circus ruled that it was acceptable for a school to ban shirts displaying the American flag. Their reasoning was that high school students do not have full Constitution liberties, which is a well-established precedent, and that the shirts would have caused disruption in the school by angering Mexican students.


This was the end of a series of confrontations between Mexican-American students and white ones alternatively displaying Mexican and American flags. The confrontations had been growing more alarming and the school said they acted to defuse the situation. But here’s what Eugene Volokh had to say:

This is a classic “heckler’s veto” — thugs threatening to attack the speaker, and government officials suppressing the speech to prevent such violence. “Heckler’s vetoes” are generally not allowed under First Amendment law; the government should generally protect the speaker and threaten to arrest the thugs, not suppress the speaker’s speech. But under Tinker‘s “forecast substantial disruption” test, such a heckler’s veto is indeed allowed.

Yet even if the judges are right, the situation in the school seems very bad. Somehow, we’ve reached the point that students can’t safely display the American flag in an American school, because of a fear that other students will attack them for it — and the school feels unable to prevent such attacks (by punishing the threateners and the attackers, and by teaching students tolerance for other students’ speech). Something is badly wrong, whether such an incident happens on May 5 or any other day.

And this is especially so because behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated. The school taught its students a simple lesson: If you dislike speech and want it suppressed, then you can get what you want by threatening violence against the speakers. The school will cave in, the speakers will be shut up, and you and your ideology will win. When thuggery pays, the result is more thuggery. Is that the education we want our students to be getting?

It’s not clear to me if Mexican flag shirts were banned too. That would at least be … somewhat defensible, I guess, if you ignore which country this was taking place in. But it would still set a dangerous Heckler’s Veto precedent in our schools. A veto that at least one North Carolina school is taking up:

WLOS-TV reports that 9-year-old Grayson Bruce was being “punch[ed],” “push[ed]” and “call[ed] … horrible names” for bringing a “My Little Pony” bag to school — so school officials told him to stop bringing the bag:

[Bruce’s mother, Noreen, says] the school asked him to leave the bag at home because it had become a distraction and was a “trigger for bullying.” …

Buncombe County Schools declined an interview, but sent us this statement, “an initial step was taken to immediately address a situation that had created a disruption in the classroom. Buncombe County Schools takes bullying very seriously, and we will continue to take steps to resolve this issue.”

So let’s get this straight. Boy brings My Little Pony bag to school. Assholes call it girly and bully him. And the school … tells him not to bring My Little Pony bag to school anymore.

I’m not sure what we would have done with a My Little Pony-carrying kid in my school. I’ve seen quite a bit of My Little Pony since Sal 11000 Beta loves the show. It’s girly, but not ridiculously so. And there is, in fact, an online community of male fans of the show called “bronies” although the less said about them the better (I was once at a conference and told a colleague about the brony thing. He thought I was making it up until he googled it.)

I’m sure the bully-defenders will claim he was provoking them; deliberately bring the bag to create this situation (since we all know how much kids love being bullied). But let me ask a straight-forward question. If you allow students to enforce some kind of social norm this way, where does it end? If a kid is being harassed because he is gay, do you tell him to pretend to be straight? If he’s being punched for being openly religious, do you tell him to stop wearing a cross? If he’s being called horrible names for his political views, do you tell him to wear an Obama button? At what point will you finally concede that the bullies might be the problem and not the victim?

Granted, it’s just a book bag. But notice the word “trigger”. The school officials are acting like the My Little Pony bag, by its very presence, provokes an uncontrollable rage in the students. If only we removed the evil talisman of My Little Pony, the bullying would stop.

But it won’t. That’s the gripping hand here: removing the My Little Pony bag will not stop the bullying. As anyone who has witnessed or experienced bullying can tell you, stopping the behavior that “invites” bullying only invites bullying on some other subject. And it goes on until the bullies find something the victim can’t change. If they get rid of a My Little Pony bag, the bullies will get on him about his unfashionable shoes. And if he gets rid of the shoes, they’ll find something else until they end up on something like race, religion or grades. Removing “triggers” for bullying doesn’t stop bullying any more than making women wear burkhas stops rape. Bullying is a choice, not an uncontrollable reflex.

Amy Alkon, in the comments:

You don’t stop bullying by giving the bullies a free pass on their behavioe[sic]. I think the best way to put an end to this particular incident is to sit down with the kids causing the problem and their parents

This is how the bullying of me in junior high stopped. A gang of girls followed me around, taunted me, threw things at me. My dad went to the principal.

I have a similar story, but from another perspective.

When I was in Hebrew High School, there was one kid who was the target of relentless abuse. Everyone made fun of him, even me, probably because we ourselves were picked on so often in regular school. One day, one of the teachers pulled the entire class into a room and laid into us something fierce. He pulled no punches in telling us that we were behaving horribly, that the kid had attempted suicide before and that he would not put with any more of our bullshit.

Thinking back on it, he had little authority to really do anything. But no one said a word. Everyone was looking at the floor or the wall, ashamed. And, in the end, we backed the hell off the kid. Confrontation from an authority figure worked. And I don’t think the kid “tattled”; the teacher just saw what was going on and did something about it because he was a good and decent man.

I still think about that to this day, thirty years later. I still hope he got everything together and is living a happy life. And I am still extremely grateful to the teacher who did not let us get away with it, who did something to stop the bullying.

Nothing A Little Cash Won’t Cure

No doubt most here have heard about Karen Klein, the upstate New York bus monitor who got national attention after a video of boys lobbing insults at her went viral. Cleary these 4 boys need to get severally beaten and this poor lady deserves some recompense, but the resultant fallout of the incident has taken some curious turns.

I remember JimK posting a video a few months back depicting a father’s attempt at disciplining his wayward daughter and his bravado with an automatic, I had a different take on the prevailing opinions here and it led to some interesting back and forths, I think this topic is equally compelling.

I’m left a bit in the dark about the whole school bus kid/monitor dynamic since where I live we only the K thru 6th grade schools have buses. All middle and high schoolers have to fend for themselves. I would think that the job of a bus monitor would be to present an authoritive figure so that the kids on the bus would behave themselves. In this capacity I think Karen was very ill suited. This is no job for an elderly woman. I suspect that the bus driver is the ultimate adult arbiter on the bus so I don’t know why she was even there in the first place, given her meek demeanor. She did not appear capable of maintaining order on that bus, nor did she even notify the bus driver about the unacceptable conduct. I’m just wondering what training she had as a monitor and what actions she was authorized to take. Granted, it’s not like a fight had broken out or a crime was being committed in her presence, but it appears by her actions and demeanor that she had no authority to do anything and this seems wrong to me.

It turns out that a charitable fund was started in Klein’s name (most people have good hearts and will step up to right a wrong) and even this is turning bizarre.

Karen Klein, the bullied bus monitor who became a viral sensation, is still unsure what to do with the over half million dollars that has been raised in her name. She and her family, however, have a few ideas.

Max Sidorov, a Canadian nutritionist who launched an online fundraiser to give the 68-year-old grandmother a vacation after video caught middle schoolers taunting her to tears, has far surpassed his goal of $5,000. The campaign has hauled in over $550,000 in just two days, providing Klein with enough money to not only travel someplace nice but retire.

I’m happy this woman is getting monetary remuneration for her injuries, the amount collected so far is pretty staggering, that is some vacation. Yes, it will be nice if she did not have to return to that shit job, but what is she going to do with the cash?

Klein told “CBS This Morning” she plans on spending the generous donations on her kids.

“I’m always too good to them,” she said. “I should let them be on their own for a change, like my son who lives with me because he doesn’t have any other place. (He) doesn’t make the money that he could, he should.”

Is this code for ,”My 46 year old son is a deadbeat who lives in my basement and plays video games all day”?

Brian, 46, has lived with his mother in the same four-bedroom home he grew up in. He also said he hasn’t given much thought to how the money could be used, but “first and foremost” he needs to get a car.

Oh boy, I’m sure that most generous contributors will be thrilled that the money they gave is not going to poor sweet Karen, but to junior so he can buy a car. Sure, she can do whatever she wants with the money but I think she would be better served showing her gratitude in that her plight in life will be improved.

Another interesting sidebar to this is the public lynching mob fomented by many radio and TV personalities that portray both these kids and their parents as absolute monsters who do not deserve to live. I have no sympathy for the kids (as a sidebar, the school was shamed into taking disciplinary action against all four brats and will announce their decision on punishment next week), but this to me was clearly one incident of thousands that go on everyday, incidents in the schools of bullying, of the stronger picking on the weaker. An insult hurled by one snot nose punk, a reaction by those witnessing it, then a synergistic effect taking place among the other ill behaved where the victim is not fighting back and consequences for bad behavior are not forthcoming. The fact that they even have bus monitors shows that this type of behavior is not rare, only then it was directed at fellow students and it highlights the simple fact that the school should not have placed Karen in the line of fire like this.

I don’t place much credence in those apologies that the kids were forced to write and I’m also not jumping on the bandwagon that these parents are despicable human beings who neglected their parenting duties. I don’t know what type of parents they are or how ashamed they feel about the behavior of their brood. I hope they fell deeply ashamed and doll out some serious punishment of their own but I make no sweeping pronouncements about the decline of society or of this generation by this one act of abuse.

Denying them bus privileges for a year (make the parents drive them back and forth to school), then doing something personal for Karen, something like yardwork, getting her groceries, walking her dog, something that benefits her, these are the types of punishments I would get behind. Then get the local paper to write a story (which the national outlets could pick up) highlighting the duties or chores that these kids are doing to make amends, the lessons they learned in dealing with the consequences. We hear the term ,”A teaching moment” often, this could be a big one.

Romney the Bully

Ladies and gentlemen, your nontroversy of the week is the report that Mitt Romney bullied a kid in high school:

There was no Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or sexting when several fellow students at a posh Detroit-area prep school say 18-year-old Romney led a boy posse to hold down one among them perceived as different and snip off his bleached blond hair.

The victim, John Lauber, is dead now, but The Washington Post reported when it broke the story that he was “perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality” and screamed for help. Though he eventually left the school — kicked out for smoking a cigarette while Romney was not punished — indications are Lauber simply endured, as many of today’s victims are forced to do despite the flood of anti-bullying campaigns in schools and out, advocates said.

The response to this has been, to say the least, interesting. Romney first denied it, then expressed regret. Breitbart, continuing its descent since its founders’ death, is claiming the story is “disintegrating” since one of the victim’s sisters doesn’t remember it and WaPo’s initial report had an error. The Left has shifted focus onto Romney’s response.

But these discussions keep inevitably coming back to the salient point of this issue: Mitt Romney was 16 years old when it happened. 16-year-olds are — and I say this a former 16-year-old myself — assholes. Neurologically, they are assholes. The prefrontal lobe that governs impulse control is not fully developed. And research has shown that teenagers are less empathic to their fellows than even infants. Teenagers are assholes. And anyone who thinks they weren’t an asshole in their teen years is looking into their past through rose-tinted glasses.

I sure was an asshole teen. I could talk about my parents or siblings, but there is one incident in particular that stands out. Back in Hebrew School, we had a kid who was different and he was made fun of relentlessly. I don’t recall how much I participated, but I certainly never stopped it. The only way it was stopped was when the Rabbi sat us down and really laid into us, telling us the young man had already attempted suicide and that we were doing was vicious, sinful and a disgrace to our faith and God (the Torah actually contains more laws governing cruel words than just about any other crime). We backed off but only after we were raked over the coals.

(I was bullied a lot in elementary school. But by high school, I’d basically become invisible to everyone, which suited me fine.)

The continual hounding of a kid is awful. This was not an isolated incident. But … Mitt Romney did not invent bullying. He did invent homophobia. He did not originate the idea of forcefully cutting long hair. He was born into a culture that tolerated and encouraged such things.

This is a non story. And Romney’s response is another non-story. He denies, backpedals and obfuscates about everything. This is who he is and this is what he does. Now we’re noticing this?

What I find particularly bothersome is the attention paid to this story when there are real-life, deadly bullying incidents going on all the time. And they are going under official government approval. And both candidates support the vast majority of it as they vie to become, given their policies, Bully in Chief.

You want to talk about bullies? How about Barack Obama’s Justice Department, harassing legal marijuana clinics, threatening them with tax audits and terrifying their landlords with threats of asset forfeiture? How about eminent domain seizures that strip poor people of their property in favor of the rich — theft upheld by the God damned Supreme Court? How about the War on Drugs, with its violent no-knock raids, unconstitutional urine tests, and puppycides. How about New York City, which is frisking more black men every year than there are black men in New York City?

And it goes deeper than that. The Institute for Justice just published a report on how licensing bullies business owners. The EPA was only last month told they could not bully homeowners with compliance orders that force them to do the EPA’s bidding under threats of bankrupting fines. Every new titan of industry, from Amazon to Yahoo, quickly finds that they will be bullied like hell if they don’t play the Washington game.

You want to talk about bullying? Video was just released showing the brutal and fatal police beating of Kelly Thomas. Have you seen this video on the national news? Has it gotten a hundredth of the coverage that something Mitt Romney did half a century ago has gotten?

What the government does on a daily basis — what it will continue to do under either of the Presidential candidates — is far more of a concern to me than what Mitt Romney did when he was an arrogant jerk-ass teenager. And it is encourage, carried out and sanctioned by adults who continually insist that all this is for our own good.

This is bullshit. This is a distraction. This is one of the stupidest stories to emerge in the election. I can only imagine what ridiculous idiocy will surface next week.

Post Scriptum: You want to talk about Presidential bullies? Read up on the Left’s much-beloved Lyndon Johnson sometime.

The Clementi Case

You’ve probably heard about the Tyler Clementi case. Dharun Ravi videotaped his roommate, Tyler Clementi having a gay encounter. The roommate later committed suicide. Actually, that’s not quite true. Ravi claims he set up a webcam to see if his roommate’s visitor would steal something. When he saw them kiss, he turned it off. Later he deliberately set up a webcam and tweeted it to his followers. But Clementi had turned off the computer so nothing happened. Sometime after, Clementi jumped of the George Washington bridge.

The incident has led to numerous anti-bullying and cyber-bullying laws and, this week, led to the conviction of Dharun Ravi on invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. He faced 5-10 years in prison and everyone is delighted.

Well, not everyone:

There was another boy in the room with Tyler Clementi that night. That other boy, so far as we know, hasn’t been publicly identified.

He also hasn’t committed suicide.

A mob mentality has set in. People—gay and straight, liberal and conservative—are calling for the heads of the two Rutgers students who cruelly and thoughtlessly invaded Tyler’s privacy. Facing charges that could bring them fives years in prison isn’t enough: people are calling for Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei to be charged with manslaughter, even murder. But the other boy didn’t commit suicide. So there had to be something else going on, some other contributing factors, that drove Tyler to such a point of despair and hopelessness that he took his own life. And this one incident of anti-gay bullying, however traumatizing it may have been (and Tyler’s emails and web posts immediately after indicate that he was upset, but not destroyed, by what his roommate had done), were not enough to do it. The other boy hasn’t committed suicide. This one event did not take a healthy, well-adjusted, well-loved gay kid and convince him to throw himself off the George Washington Bridge.

Surely, that must be some Right-Wing lunatic braying those insensitive things. That’s probably an op-ed by Rick Santorum, right? Nope. It’s from Dan Savage, who is exactly the opposite of Rick Santorum in every conceivable way.

Savage’s point is that Clementi must have had other problems, more likely a series of bullying incidents, and that this was the last straw that pushed him over the edge. But even that point may not be quite correct. Jacob Sullum points out that it’s not even clear that Clementi was getting any anti-gay-bullying from Ravi at all:

the prosecution never really substantiated its claim that Ravi deliberately sought to intimidate Clementi because he was gay. The most incriminating statement it introduced was Ravi’s joke that the webcam would “keep the gays away,” which might have reflected nothing more than his discomfort with the sexual activity going on in his room, a feeling that was compounded by the fact that Clementi’s visitor was an older man from off campus who struck Ravi as scruffy and taciturn. A naive 18-year-old’s uneasiness is such a situation is not the same as anti-gay hatred, and there is very little evidence that Ravi harbored antipathy toward homosexuals in general or Clementi in particular (leaving aside the point that such opinions should not be subject to criminal penalties). For all we know, Ravi was completely sincere when he said in a note of apology to Clementi (written after Clementi complained about the spying and asked for a room change) that he had nothing against gay people, a point that was confirmed by the prosecution’s own witnesses. Certainly there was reasonable doubt on that question.

So why did they convict? Above the Law explains:

So, the jury believed that Ravi did not invade Clementi’s privacy for the purpose of intimidating Clementi over his sexual orientation. But they thought that Ravi should have known that Clementi would feel intimidated, and that Clementi believed he was intimidated, and so Ravi is guilty and going to jail.

Is that how we want our hate crime laws to work? Any time we feel we’re being singled out because of our race, religion, or sexual orientation, we’re victims of a hate crime, even if we’re not being singled out because of our race, religion, or orientation? We’ve moved beyond punishing what is in a person’s heart, and moved straight to punishing an assailant for what’s in his victim’s heart.

Bingo. For years, conservatives have complained that hate crime laws create special classes of victims. I have not paid much attention to that argument because I worry about the larger issue: hate crime is thought crime. If someone beats me up because I’m Jewish, I’m no more hurt than if they beat me up to take my wallet. What we have criminalized is their motive. And only certain motives. If someone beats me because they hate that I’m an asshole and smell bad, they aren’t punished. It’s only a hate crime if it’s the yarmulke that offends them. A verdict like this should put fear into everyone. No longer is crime defined by objective evidence or the actions/intentions of the accused. It is defined by how the victim feels about it — or in this case, how we conjecture that they felt about it.

Back in college, the feminists attempt to define sexual harassment by the catch-phrase, “if you think you’ve been harassed, you’ve been harassed”. I objected that this left any factual analysis out of the equation; it let people define an offense any way they wanted to — in this case, an offense that could result in expulsion from school. It created an arbitrary state of law that could be used against anyone the authorities didn’t like.

We’re now seeing this mentality creep into law — if you think you’ve been the victim of a hate crime, or the prosecutor can persuade a jury you have been, then you’re a victim. Facts don’t matter; only feelings do. The prosecutors couldn’t really pin anything on Ravi but there was a hue and cry for his head. So they found a way to stretch an overly flexible law to accomodate that outcry. And if they can stretch it to put him in prison, they can stretch it to put anyone in prison.

(H/T: First Amendment bulldog Mark Randazza).

The Bully Initiative

Because our schools are doing everything else so well…

Under a new state law in New Jersey, lunch-line bullies in the East Hanover schools can be reported to the police by their classmates this fall through anonymous tips to the Crimestoppers hot line.

In Elizabeth, children, including kindergartners, will spend six class periods learning, among other things, the difference between telling and tattling.

And at North Hunterdon High School, students will be told that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander when it comes to bullying: if they see it, they have a responsibility to try to stop it.

The impetus for this is the Anti-Bullying … wait for it … Bill of Rights, a cumbersome new law that is imposing all kinds of policies on schools who already have strained budgets. It mandates reporting, includes “cyber-bullying”, requires the creation of antibullying specialists and is lining the pockets of various interests:

This summer, thousands of school employees attended training sessions on the new law; more than 200 districts have snapped up a $1,295 package put together by a consulting firm that includes a 100-page manual and a DVD.

That’s a cool quarter of a million for however threw that together.

The impetus for this is the death of Tyler Clementi, who killed himself after a video of him having sex with another man was circulated. But that’s more harassment and invasion of privacy than bullying. That can be prosecuted under existing law. Moreover, Clementi was a college student, not a high school student. As a general rule, laws passed after a tragedy are bad news. Laws that encourage anonymous tips to police are a recipe for an outrageous persecution of some poor kid.

This is my favorite quote:

“Kids have to learn to deal with conflict,” [Margaret Dolan] said. “What a shame if they don’t know how to effectively interact with their peers when they have a disagreement.”

But they’re not going to learn how to interact with peers and deal with conflict if a psychologist leaps out from behind the bushes every time two kids get into a conflict. Part of growing up is learning to deal with people who are assholes. This is something kids have to learn on their own. The only time authorities should step in is when there’s a real danger of physical violence. Once of things I like about Sal 9000 Beta’s day care is that the teachers don’t leap in every time two kids have a squabble, even if one kid is clearly being a jerk. The kids need to learn how to function on their own. And they do.

The real damage, I suspect, will be to education. This is just one more regulation, one more piece of bureaucratic bullshit that the poor public school teachers of New Jersey have to deal with. It’s bad enough that the state is looking over their shoulder, trying to micromanage every minute of class time and making a federal case when they try to discipline a student (or fire an incompetent colleague). Now they have to be on the alert for anything that can be remotely called bullying or be in violation of the law.

This wasn’t a difficult issue to deal with. Criminal sanctions can be used to punish those who intimidate, threaten or abuse others. But creating a huge mandate for training, snitching and counseling is just asking for disaster. It’s another iteration of the “We must do something! This is something! Let’s do it!” mentality that characterizes public policy.

This will blow up in New Jersey’s face. Just watch.

First They Came for the Cartoons


The Renton City Prosecutor wants to send a cartoonist to jail for mocking the police department in a series of animated Internet videos.

The “South-Park”-style animations parody everything from officers having sex on duty to certain personnel getting promoted without necessary qualifications. While the city wants to criminalize the cartoons, First Amendment rights advocates say the move is an “extreme abuse of power.”

They’re trying to use cyber-stalking provisions to go after the guy. See? I knew those laws would come back to bite us. What else could happen in a society where mocking authority is considered the worst crime imaginable?

Well, the Renton police shouldn’t waste their time. Just wait until the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act is passed. Then they can just ask the ISP for information on the cartoonist and proceed from there with the appropriate harassment and humiliation.