Column - We must stop bullyingThe beautiful face of Phoebe Price ought to haunt us and nag at our collective consciousness forever.
By: Dennis Dalman, Alexandria Echo Press
The beautiful face of Phoebe Price ought to haunt us and nag at our collective consciousness forever.
On the afternoon of January 14 of this year, a sister came home and saw Phoebe hanging, dead, from a stairwell. She had been harassed and hounded to death by nine classmates. Phoebe, 15 at the time of her death, is just one case of the tragic consequences of bullying. There have been other deaths and there will be likely many more. And these deaths and ruined lives won’t stop until parents, school officials and other children start to realize how devastating bullying can be.
There are fools who claim bullying is just “part of growing up,” nothing to take very seriously. These ill-informed dolts like to emphasize how they too were bullied once upon a time and survived. The solution, they say, is to tell victims to avoid the bullies. Other enablers (and that is exactly what they are) minimize the cruel effects of bullying by reminding children that “sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you.”
Phoebe Price was born in England. Her family moved to County Clare, Ireland when she was 2 years old. Later, about a year ago, her family moved to South Hadley, Massachusetts because the family has some friends living there. Phoebe began school in South Hadley in September 2009. From the very beginning, a vicious clique of girls and at least two boys harassed her, hurled insults at her (“Irish slut”), verbally threatened her, threw objects at her, jeered when she walked past. Such sadistic behavior went on day after day in hallways, on school grounds and via the Internet to Phoebe’s Facebook webpage. Even after her terrible death, some of these hounds from hell posted disgusting insults on Phoebe’s “Memorial” Facebook page.
Apparently, at least one of her tormentors was jealous because a popular senior boy showed an interest in Phoebe.
It is painfully difficult to imagine what that poor girl suffered. We should all mourn her death, and all of us should feel ashamed, or at least inadequate, because our society has yet to regard bullying as a very serious crime with horrifying consequences, physical and psychological.
Bullying happens every day in schools, and even the mildest form (occasional derogatory name-calling) can cause victims to feel despised, threatened and insecure in the very environment (school) where they should feel safe, loved and protected, just as they should feel in the loving homes they return to after every school day. And think of Phoebe, returning to a loving home only to kill herself.
Her nine tormentors have been charged with harassment, violating Phoebe’s civil rights and (two boys) for statutory rape. Attorneys will not explain, yet, what actions brought about the rape charges.
No school officials have been charged with anything, which is an outrage of injustice. Those enablers, just as bad as the bullies, knew the hounding, harassing behavior was directed daily against Phoebe, and they did absolutely nothing about it. Another girl named Rebecca had been bullied at the same school for three years, according to her father, who said officials did nothing to stop the behavior.
An attorney, quoted in the New York Times, said officials won’t be charged even though authorities say they knew about the bullying. But the attorney added, “They had a lack of understanding of harassment associated with teen dating relationships.” If that is truly the case, they ought to be fired for incompetence and/or stupidity, as well as gross insensitivity as enablers of persistent cruelty.
For too long, society has turned a blind eye to bullying. Phoebe is not the only fatal result of this vicious behavior. Just last year a girl committed suicide because the “boy” who claimed to like her, via her Internet, one day did an about-face and said she is ugly and he wishes she would just die. The “boy,” in fact, turned out to be a neighbor woman tormenting the girl through despicable trickery. There are many more examples of children damaged psychologically or driven to death from such behavior.
Massachusetts is now considering passing stricter laws against bully behavior. We can pass all the laws we want, but nothing will change until all adults – and other children – realize what a cruel crime bullying can be and then do something about it every time it happens.
Let’s quit blaming victims. Put the blame where it belongs – on the bullies – and then make them (and enabling school officials) pay the consequences. Strict and swift consequences.
Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.