A Word in Edgewise

By E.B. Boatner February 29, 2008

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After recent shootings, my AOL screen (an inveterate questioner) asked me, “How concerned are you about violence in America’s schools?”—reporting 81 percent of respondents to be “Very;” 14 percent “Somewhat;” and 5 percent “Not at All.” A pointless, inane exercise that avoided any examination of what I believe is a main source of school violence: bullying.

One of four reported instances that week involved the classroom shooting of an eighth grader by another student. The victim was described as a rather effeminate youth who wore makeup and jewelry to class, though he was generally well-liked and stood up for himself.

Bullying, of course, is not limited to gender and sexuality, and is never acceptable. Many children lead lives of misery because they’re too this—not enough that.

Nevertheless, the “bad blood” between the two students resulted in Brandon McInerney, just two weeks past his 14th birthday, feeling he had reason enough (and access to a weapon) to shoot the other in the head. Now, Lawrence King, 15, is dead. His killer, McInerney, is charged—as an adult—with “premeditated murder with enhancements of use of a firearm and a hate crime.” He now faces a 50-plus-year sentence in a facility where “boys will be boys” is also the refrain.

(And anyone saying that King, by being different, “brought it on himself” must needs also believe a teen girl wearing a provocative outfit “deserves to be raped.”)

Both boys were ill-served by adults.

Why was overt and ongoing bullying allowed to exist in the school? How was McInerney led to believe that harassing and killing were acceptable options? Why was King not counseled about how best to express himself in a school environment—not to repress, but to channel? Would the above putative 14-year-old girl be allowed to wear a navel-baring see-through tank top to class? Why not a school gay-straight alliance?

I’m ignorant of the circumstances of young McInerney’s home life, but, with “bad blood” highly visible at school, what were the school officials, teachers, et al. thinking to let the bullying escalate to its fatal conclusion?

Consider Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pound, a lesbian couple who came to Miami recently with their children for a family cruise. When Pond, 39, collapsed, she was taken to hospital, where her partner of 18 years and her children were shut out. They were told only that Pond was not going to recover, and, according to Langbehn, that she was “in an antigay city and state, and she could expect to receive no information or acknowledgment as family.”

What happens to boys and girls who are tormented? What, in fact, happens to the kids who torment them, who as adults use righteousness as a cloak for cruelty; who relish withholding kindness; who raise children who continue their legacy?

They grow up to be—bullies.

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