Thursday, September 30, 2010

GONE TOO SOON: Justice for Two Bullied Boys

When Houston resident David Truong arrived home on Thursday evening, he saw his stepson, Asher Brown (right), curled up on the floor. Truong thought Asher was listening to music or reading. If only. Asher was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Once the back story was revealed, one could safely say that Asher Brown was bullied to death.

Asher, 13, had told his parents that very morning that he was gay. Smaller than other children, described by his step dad as a bit “clumsy,” Asher was also a follower of Buddhism. According to news reports, one of the boys who continually taunted him had tripped him and caused him to fall down a flight of stairs at school – twice. Reportedly, this followed 18 months of continual bullying by a group of boys who called him derogatory names associated with homosexuality, and who made fun of him because of his Buddhism. The parents’ appeal for help from the school administrators fell on deaf ears.

Upon reflection, one could say Asher was rather evolved for a barely pubescent boy. To have come to terms with his sexuality, to have made steps to understand a rather complex philosophy, and to endure the constant wrath of his peers suggests that Asher was a person of real substance. But every person has a breaking point. Here is what Asher’s mother and stepfather had to say about him:

The same day that Asher’s suicide was reported, there was another suicide in the news. This time it was a male Rutgers University freshman and violin prodigy, Tyler Clementi. Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi and another freshman, Molly Wei, both 18, conspired to plant a webcam in Clementi’s room and broadcast a live image over the Internet of Clementi having sex with another male student. When Clementi (right) found out, according to two witnesses, he jumped to his death from the George Washington bridge.

Many of you who are reading this were bullied when you were children. I was. I was an asthmatic kid who couldn’t do much running with the other kids, and I was the only Jew as far as the eye could see in my middle-American, middle-class, mid-20th century neighborhood. I was different. It seems in our culture we can sum it up like this: Different, bad; Conformist, good. If you were bullied as I was, you were probably fat, or foreign, or gay, or learning disabled, or quirky, or physically weak, or naturally artistic, or poor, or physically disabled, or … well, fill in the blank. You were different. Tyler Clementi was reportedly an introverted, gay violinist. A prototype for bullying, you might say. Watch:

We could chalk the whole bullying sub-culture up to youth, ignorance and peer pressure, I suppose. But how, then, do we explain the husband who continually bullies his wife, even to the point of physically abusing her? And how do we explain bullying within the corporate system? I worked in the corporate system for what seems like 100 years, and I witnessed repeated instances of bullying in board rooms, in office settings and in the presence of clients and co-workers. I witnessed male corporate bullies verbally abusing female subordinates, seemingly so that they could maintain the status quo of the corporate boys club. I witnessed female corporate bullies verbally emasculating male subordinates in the name of 1970s feminism and progress. Bullying is really about power. And the power that it represents is really about ego. It seems there is an ego-centric need among some humans to belittle other humans.

Bottom line: I believe Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei (below, right) should be charged with first degree murder, which of course, implies full intent to kill. If they did not intend to physically kill Clementi, they surely intended to murder his spirit. So far they have only been charged with crimes related to privacy, which carry maximum prison sentences of three to five years. There is legal precedent to at least charge them with civil rights violations. What is clear is that Clementi, whose body has not been found, died because of Ravi and Wei.

I believe the boys who taunted Asher Brown should be expelled from school, turned over the juvenile authorities and tried in court as adults – for murder. The boy who tripped Asher and caused him to fall down a flight of stairs twice had intent to cause bodily harm. The fact that Asher did not die until later, by his own hand, does not change my mind. I believe bullies murdered Asher Brown. School administrators, who now claim they never received complaints of bullying from the parents, are clearly lying. I believe they should be tried in court, as accessories to Asher’s murder. It is now about accountability.

Had he lived, Asher, a Buddhist, may have brought peace in the world. Clementi, a skilled musician, may have brought melodic art into the world. Ravi, Wei and Asher’s tormentors brought nothing into the world except pain and death. In our society, when one brings about pain and death, they are tried by a jury of their peers and punished. Am I missing something here, or are these individuals not criminally responsible for the deaths of two young people? And since they are, I want justice.

1 comment:

Joan Eisenstodt said...

I re-read this morning what you wrote, Paul, and the impact seems even harder the second time around. Maybe it takes having been bullied, having felt discrimination, being an "other" to understand all or any of this. When people say they 'don't get it' about any of this, it means they may also be lacking any bit of empathy.

There is much work being done about bullying. Today, Oct. 1, begins Natl. Bullying Month - just google "bullying month" and you'll get lots of good hits. Schools are doing something. Teaching Tolerance, part of the Southern Poverty Law Center, put out lots of information for parents and teachers about it last month in prepration.

We have to protect young (and older) lives. Period.

Thank you for being you and for writing well so others can learn and understand.