A few days ago I posted on a an NYT story on my other blog about a teenager named Billy Wolfe who was having constant run-ins with bullies at his high school.
For some reason, my post wound up as a top link in Google and I began to get a fair amount of traffic and comments, including comments from people claiming to be students at the Fayetteville, Arkansas high school in question. I have no way of knowing if these commenters, are in fact, students (and I suspect a couple are actually adults). But the comments are illuminating about the culture at the school.
The theme of the comments are that Billy Wolfe deserved what he got, and he is a bully himself.
"The kid in the car beat up Billy because Billy tried to slam his head into a locker the day before.
And in wood shop class, Billy called another student's deceased mother a "German whore." I'd say a punch to the face was justified."
Except that the NYT story stated the incident this way:
Things got worse. At Woodland Junior High School, some boys in a wood shop class goaded a bigger boy into believing that Billy had been talking trash about his mother. Billy, busy building a miniature house, didn’t see it coming: the boy hit him so hard in the left cheek that he briefly lost consciousness.
Ms. Wolfe remembers the family dentist sewing up the inside of Billy’s cheek, and a school official refusing to call the police, saying it looked like Billy got what he deserved. Most of all, she remembers the sight of her son.
Most of the comments are the same. Billy is "no angel" and shoots his mouth off.
"The boy in his woodshop class is one of my good friends and in my German class. His mother died recently and he moved to the United States. Billy was talking about her in a disrespectful way. The boy LOVES his mother, and I've talked to him about her death. He was telling me everything Billy was talking about his mother and honestly I think the hit was justified. Wolfe wouldn't want someone talking about his mother in a disrespectful way so what gives him the right to do it."
"The kid that hit him at the bus stop is also one of my friends and classmates. He told me that Billy was provoking him and that he was trying to say all of these bad things about him."
"I'm disgusted with this article. It is played up too much, and incredibly one-sided. I attend Fayetteville High School, and because of this one kid who has been in fights, my school is being put into bad light across the nation. Sure our school has many fights, but could it possilby be normal for teenagers- especially boys- to get their aggresions out on each other?
Then some of the claims about Billy go completely off the rails.
"We have a kid at our school who has Cerebral Palsy and Billy Wolfe MURDERED this boys cat by KICKING it to death.
But this kid didn't do anything to him."
What ius a tad disturbing about this comment is the "But this kid didn't do anything to him", part. This would imply that, in this person's mind at least, there is in fact something a person could do which would warrant the killing of a defenseless animal. This way of thinking speaks VOLUMES about the subtext of the moral justifications for violence in play at this school.
The gist of the comments always come down to the same excuses, rationalizations and counter-charges:
1) Billy "talks smack", and such people shouldn't complain when they get hit.
Ummm, no, sorry. The law is pretty clear on the matter. The law applies to everyone, including juveniles. What someone says does not give you license to assault them. So, even if true, Billy doesn't get to be a punching bag for "talking smack".
In life, there are many assholes, and you don't get to hit any of them.
2) Billy's parents should just send him to another school.
Certainly an option, but then we have ceded the ground to the bullies and they get to pick a new victim and the problem continues.
3) Billy is a bully himself and started the fights.
The claim has so far been repeated, but always as hearsay, never from a first person account. In the NYT story, the school suspended Billy on these grounds, then admitted they were wrong:
Not long after, a boy on the school bus pummeled Billy, but somehow Billy was the one suspended, despite his pleas that the bus’s security camera would prove his innocence. Days later, Ms. Wolfe recalls, the principal summoned her, presented a box of tissues, and played the bus video that clearly showed Billy was telling the truth.
4) Billy picks on people in wheelchairs and kicked a cat to death.
Again, no evidence. A poster over at Drudge claims to be one such victim, but says he only thinks Billy killed his cat, he didn't see it. (It is also instructive to read a lot of the conservatives posting their views on the matter. Five minutes reading and you understand why bullies exist. My favorite:
"Here's an idea, start calling yourself "Bill" as opposed to "Billy", that ought to cut down on some of the beatings."
Apparently, your name is a license for other people to beat you.)
A lot of what I am hearing sounds like "stories" that have taken on a life of their own, with new embellishments each time they make the rounds.
5) Fights are a normal thing. Why the big deal?
Yes, fights happen in schools. That fact can never be changed. But when the same person is on the receiving end by the same people, then SWIFT and SEVERE action must be taken and the police brought in. The failure of the school officials to do this is the most damning failure, except for the one official who claimed Billy got what he deserved. That person should be fired, and their teaching certificate REVOKED.
6) The parents have no right to sue, and are making a big deal out of a small matter.
Nope, the parents had to sue since school officials refused to do their job. Now it is a big deal and everyone loses.