Bullying and Zero Tolerance: It Gets Better

Who would bully a kid this awesome? Wu-Tang!

Today Scott Greenfield wrote a post about why anti-bulling laws are stupid, based on the Dharun Ravi suicide and conviction of New Jersey’s Tyler Clementi. According to Scott:

Because of hate crime legislation, Ravi faces a term of imprisonment of 10 years. Uh oh.  Suddenly the anti-bullying crusade has a problem. They demanded he be convicted. They demanded he be held accountable. And now that they got their way, they are confronted with the consequences of what they asked for.  But it’s become clear that they don’t want that either.

Newsflash, singers of Kumbaya.  Neither gay rights groups, nor you, can intervene.  The imposition of sentence is not a matter of public approval.  It’s not a democratic decision. The judge won’t “crowdsource” it.  And nobody gets to “intervene.”

Scott’s words took me back to high school. The year was 1999 and I was in school at Downingtown High. The country had just been rocked by the Columbine High School massacre.

As far as I know, we never had any real problems with weapons or gangs at Downingtown. Maybe a random fight here and there, but nothing serious. This was a typical run of the mill suburban high school filled with ordinary suburban kids. After the Columbine massacre, Downingtown decided to take measures against trench coats and a “more serious” stance on weapons in order to combat a problem isolated to a school in Colorado.

Sounded like a great idea at the time, though. We don’t want Columbine happening here in Downingtown! We have to do something, right…?

The school administrators told us Zero Tolerance was to keep everyone safe from Columbine. But is that how it panned out…?

Unfortunately, reality is often a bit uncooperative…

As luck would have it, a friend of mine was working at a grocery store after school. Part of his job involved breaking down boxes, because that’s what you do when you work in a supermarket. He kept his box cutter in his school bag. One day a school administrator got wind of this.  Something that, in reality, is probably less dangerous than a pencil or a dodge ball. This kid never had any disciplinary problems before, and was generally viewed as a nice guy.

Well, under the Zero Tolerance policy, this kid was expelled from school for carrying a “dangerous weapon”. The law had no discretion. No one liked it, everyone knew it was wrong, but this is just how it “had to be”. It didn’t matter that this was too harsh a sentence for carrying a boxcutter on your way to work.

Zero Tolerance sounded good at school board meetings, but it didn’t look so good in reality. I’m not convinced it made Downingtown (a school that was already safe) any safer.

What it did do is get innocent kids expelled for having ordinary and harmless items like boxcutters and scissors on them.

It’s been almost 12 years since I was in high school. Now that enough innocent kids have been expelled, we’re just starting to realize that Zero Tolerance was a bad idea.

Yes, Columbine was bad. Yes, school shootings are bad. No, high school students shouldn’t be carrying around Glocks and knives. But the answer wasn’t Zero Tolerance. Zero Tolerance harmed too many otherwise innocent people in order to combat a problem that didn’t exist. The results were absurd and unfair.

Which takes me to anti-bullying laws. Is bullying bad? Absolutely. It’s a mean thing to do, and it’s particularly a problem when kids are targeted for their sexual orientation. I would certain concede that bullying is far more a reality in every high school across the country than the chance of another Columbine.

But is passing laws the answer? Absolutely not. Because if we pass laws making “bullying” a crime, we’re going to have a lot of kids sitting in jail over a mean Facebook post. As time has shown us, often the results are absurd.

The way we should combat bullying directed towards our gay brothers and sisters is education and acceptance. Changing people’s attitude towards gays is much more effective than throwing people in jail. Stuff like this:

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