Flirting with violence

busThere is a very ugly surveillance video that has gone viral over the past 24 hours.  The video is of two boys beating a third boy severely while riding on a public school bus.  During the beating, a large number of other passengers stand up and shout what sounds like cheering, while the victim of the beating merely holds up his hands and binder in an attempt to deflect the blows to his head, neck, and chest.  The police chief suggests he has released the surveillance tape to send out a message…

“To show the kind of behavior to the public that we as a community should not tolerate,” said Chief William Clay of the 13-minute long video that shows two Belleville West High School students punching and choking another student.
“Also to educate the children that were involved,” Clay continued, “although they were not assaulting the individual, they cheered it on.”

However, from the number of places I have seen this video posted (I get a search hit number of 10,000 right now and it has only been 24 hours), including every major television network, I’d say there may be secondary audience of onlookers idly entertained by watching the assault.   The viewing frenzy of the footage certainly reminds me of the popularity of the video footage of the Florida cheerleaders who video taped and posted their beating of a classmate last April.  There are 860,000 hits if you look for links to that video on google.

It would seem a great number of onlookers are fascinated, for an infinite number of reasons, by this one sided display of graphic violence.   This gives me pause, and makes me think, who are we as a society to point to the other riders on this bus as culpable witnesses while considering ourselves merely concerned onlookers.  We are living in a society that consumes violence as if it were filled with corn syrup.  In a society where the boundaries between fictious violence and reality television are always blurry.  A socity of spectaters of scripted sporting violence, state sponsored military and police violence, and spontaneous public violence, where all of these forms of violence are often considered entertainment.  And in a society in the which weapons of interpersonal violence are considered a basic civil right. 

And when our children act out this reality, we wring our collective hands and wonder what went wrong with them?  How did they shamefully come to such a state that they would cheer on an assault?  Well, now that this story has made it’s national blip there will be plenty of psycho analyzing, and perhaps some social analysis of the fact that the attackers were black and the victim white, some finger pointing at the adults at hand, some expulsions, and then everything will be back to normal. 

The continuing flow of system wide violence will resume as always, competition and dominance will dictate the day in nearly every high school in America.  Graphic violence will be standard entertainment fare in everything from hollywood movies to local news coverage.  And the ‘bullies’ of established power will continue to force their will upon others through all means.  But at least these ‘bullies’ will get what they deserve.* 

And least we as a community try to frame this sort of violence as a freak incident of school violence… here are just a few other moments of student violence that have taken place in the past week:   A 17 year old Miami student was stabbed to deathin a hallway brawl,  in Cincinnati a girl was killed in a street fight involving 40 people and in the following days two boys are arrested for retaliating with knives at the school, and 15 year old chicago boy stabbed another boy in the school bathroom.  This all I gathered from a quick national news search, and I only share with you the highlights.  I’d hate to say what kinds of stories I could gather from just a single school district if I made some cold calls to assistant principals this Friday at about 5:00 in the afternoon and asked the to review the week for me.  It is all around us, and yet we isolate the cases and one at a time we expel and imprison and in the worst moments bury our youth and all the while we go on producing and consuming violence as public policy and as standard entertainment fare. 

And I now wonder at the early arrival of this type of unrest at schools this year, for to my recollection this type of high intensity mayhem usually develops later in the school year.   I worry about the year to come. 

*I am in no way suggesting the perpetrators of interpersonal violence are not personally accountable for their actions.  I fully believe attackers must be held accountable for violating the human rights of anyone.  I simply think that this in no way addresses the ongoing peer to peer violence facing our schools.

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3 Comments

Filed under School Violence

3 responses to “Flirting with violence

  1. Jeff

    I was just dealing with this today. I was going over the “Rights and Responsibilities” handbook with the kids like we are required to every year and when I got to the part about harassment and bullying a few of the kids seemed to think that it was incredibly funny. Ooooh, it pissed me off. The class then proceeded to receive a lecture about how we should treat other people and how miserable we can sometimes make each other; but if we could just change that…middle school wouldn’t have to be the dreaded stage for millions of American youth. Ugh. It infuriates me that some of my students grow up in homes that breed this sort of violence and hate at such a young age.

    • jheffern

      Hey Jeff!
      I dunno but I’m thinking what with all the stress of the failed economy on families, alonside the nastiness and social division breeding in our national politics this is going to be a pretty difficult school year. Most of the stories I mentioned here have triggered cascading violence in the schools where they happened. And that can only be addressed when the community works in unity against it. Difficult times it seems.

  2. Jeff

    I think you are right about this being a bad year for schools. We haven’t had any fights on campus, but we had a fight nearly every day this week that happened at our students’ homes. Yikes. It does not bode well.