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In bus beating case, we are sending kids the wrong message

The beating has stopped.

At this point in the video, the 13-year-old victim is cowering beneath a seat on the school bus, and his three assailants are standing nearby as if admiring their own brutality.

The 64-year-old bus driver, who was shouting at the trio of 15-year-olds to back off while he was calling dispatch for help, now stands in the aisle and addresses the older teens.

"You know, y'all going to jail,'' the bus driver says. "Y'all going to jail.''

Looks as if the driver may have been mistaken.

Authorities have recommended that two of the 15-year-olds be given nine months of probation for the attack that took place in Gulfport but circled the nation via video.

Let me say, I understand the reluctance to send kids to any type of correctional facility, juvenile or otherwise. There is a real danger of forever altering a youngster's life by potentially dooming him or her to the justice system at such an early age.

But, in a case such as this, there is an even greater danger in treating a violent crime as a youthful indiscretion.

Look at it this way:

Based on police reports, two of the older teens had approached the 13-year-old earlier in the day with an offer to sell marijuana. The younger boy declined and then notified a school official. Isn't that what he was supposed to do? Isn't that what we teach our kids?

And yet the boy's reward was a broken arm in a savage beating.

So, tell me, what lesson should other kids take from that?

If I'm a kid who tries to stay out of trouble, I'm thinking only a fool would ever notify authorities about a potential crime. And if I'm a kid with a bad attitude, I'm not too worried about breaking bones if I know counseling is my likely punishment.

"There is a danger in setting the wrong tone for kids, a fear that you better not speak out,'' said attorney Frank McDermott, who represented the bus driver after Gulfport police initially suggested he was negligent for not intervening. "It's unfortunate, but it could create a mentality where the bad kids run roughshod over the good kids.''

What's important to remember is that this was not a simple schoolyard fight. It was not a dispute over girls or sports or some other random event.

This was a premeditated attack. It was vicious. It was brazen. And it did not end when the boy fell to the floor and tried to escape.

This cannot be excused as a temporary lapse in judgment or a matter of hanging out with the wrong crowd. It was not a crime of opportunity, and it was not a victimless offense.

In other words, this was not some boys-will-be-boys transgression. It was brutal, cowardly and utterly inexcusable.

Here's what cannot be forgotten:

In too many ways, we have already failed the 13-year-old.

We failed him when school officials did not anticipate trouble on that bus ride home. And we failed him when no one else on the bus stood up to help.

If a judge decides next week that the appropriate punishment for the three defendants is nine months' worth of counseling and supervision, I fear we will have failed him again.

Even worse, we will have failed all the other kids who believe they should speak up when they see something wrong.

In bus beating case, we are sending kids the wrong message 08/19/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 3:13pm]

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