A Boston Criminal Defense Attorney Looks At The Question Of Whether The Antibullying Bill Is The Solution (Part Two)

Well, it looks like the state Legislature has unanimously approved the new state law cracking down on bullying. It must be a great thing, right? After all, it passed unanimously! How could so many politicians in the Boston area be wrong?

The legislation would require school employees to report all instances of bullying and require principals to investigate them. Now, how could that be a bad thing?

“Bullying is not new. Bullying has been with us from time immemorial”, explained Senator Robert O’Leary, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “But what has changed is that it appears to be more pervasive, more destructive By this, one would imagine he refers to the new cyber-bullying. In fact, it would appear that it used to be more violent. As for “destructive”? Well, recently two victims of bullying have tragically taken their own lives
“We’re going to send out a message that this kind of behavior is not acceptable and the community needs to deal with it,” O’Leary said.

Meanwhile, Representative Martha Walz, House chairwoman of the Education Committee, said the bill was “very strong legislation that will make a meaningful difference in the lives of children in our state.”

“This is a day that we can be proud we have done something positive – to eradicate bullying and to demonstrate to this Commonwealth and to the nation that bullying will no longer be tolerated,” said Representative John Scibak, whose district includes South Hadley, where the case of Phoebe Prince drew international attention to the issue of bullying.

Both the House and Senate had previously passed versions of the bill. A House-Senate conference committee on Wednesday released a compromise version.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk. A spokeswoman said Wednesday the governor would review the bill but considered passage of strong anti-bullying legislation “a top priority.”

And so you have it, right? Short blog today. Nothing to say. All is good in the Commonwealth, or it will be as soon as this bill is law.

Well, maybe not so short after all. I have a few concerns.

“yes, you have stated these concerns, Sam, on a number of blogs. Typical lawyer! What are you, pro-bullying?”

No, I am not pro-bullying. I have two kids and have seen bullying. It is heartbreaking for both the victim and the victim’s family. Allowing it is also destructive to the bully him or herself.

However, we tend to accept simple “feel-good” actions which tend to contain sweeping generalities and end up not only not solving problems, but making them worse.

Bullying is a systemic problem which has been with us since kids were invented. Further, it does not only take place in school. It also takes place in other areas such as summer camps and, sometimes, outside clubs. It can take place on the neighborhood streets.

A mere declaration that principals are to investigate anything around the school is not going to cut it. First of all, there would need to be more specific guidelines as to what the principal is to look for. Next, how about some clearer guidance as to what he or she is to do about it?

But merely putting it at the principal’s feet alone is not going to solve the problem. Mandating that the parents of bullies are notified is a start…but what happens then? If part of Ricky Racist’s bullying of an Afro-American classmate includes synonyms of the “N-word”, do you think it unlikely that the parent’s reaction is going to be minimal? Where do you think little Ricky learned the attitude?

Schools also encompass kids from very young ages to beyond the age of alleged maturity. Do you really expect that, if we are truly looking to solve the problem, the same response is appropriate to all sets of such kids?

Let’s look how this impacts the criminal justice system as, again, that is what this daily blog is supposed to be about. I have ridiculed District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel regarding what I feel are her grandstanding actions in indicting the kids that were allegedly involved in the tragic matter South Hadley. To me, she took a situation that already existed in the law and made it worse. The fact is, though, that she did not create the problem.

The criminal courts are full of matters which, most Involved, if honest, would admit, do not belong there. However, because of generally enacted and enforced laws and fear of lawsuits or bad press, law enforcement from the police officer on up, feel like they have no choice when it comes to exercising discretion. There needs to be something between ignoring a problem and bringing into the court system to blemish and therefore handicap a youth for making the same stupid mistakes many of us did growing up. What is worse is that, particularly after getting a taste of how the system can be so unfair, that youth grows up with an even more underscored view that the “system is a joke”.

It is a quote I have heard many times…from younger and younger clients.

“Ok, Sam…so what is your solution?”

That is the point. There is no clear-cut and omni-fitting solution that comes to mind. I am a lawyer. My teaching experience is primarily in teaching law students and new lawyers. But what is needed is a thoughtful approach, one that does not attempt to rush to make everybody feel good. One that utilizes various experts but takes into account what happens after the youth is arrested or brought to court to face delinquency or criminal charges.

Not simply theories, but reality.

Every criminal defendant is not the same. Every kid who gets into trouble is not the same. Pretend that they are and you only make the situation worse.

Or have you not heard about death threats and other bullying that has still continued plaguing kids around Massachusetts since the heroic district attorney announced her proud indictments? Do you really think that passing the new bill is going to actually send more of a “no tolerance” message as our lawmakers claim?

And, not for nothing, but don’t you think we should look into some parent education in these instances too?

Criticism aside, I will tell you one good thing about what both the bill and the actions of District Attorney Scheibel have done. They have directed the spotlight on the problem.

I merely ask that the spotlight not fade away now with speedy “feel good” non-solutions. Let’s take our time and maybe even make some real progress here in teaching our kids empathy.

Because, the truth is that that is the only thing that is going to keep them from needing the services of someone like me.

If you, or yours, do have such a matter, though, and would like to discuss it with me, please feel free to call me at 617-492-3000.

In the meantime, have a great, safe and law-abiding weekend!

For the original story upon which today’s posting is based, please turn to : http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2010/04/senate_approves_3.html

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