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No Justice for Jamey

Yesterday, Amherst Police held a brief press conference to inform the public that no charges would be brought against any of Jamey Rodemeyer’s tormentors. Jamey, you’ll remember, was the 14 year-old Williamsville North student who took his own life after having been bullied relentlessly for being a little bit different. I wrote about Jamey’s suicide here, and published the stories from some of his former classmates in this post, along with a brief analysis of some of his Tumblr posts, which showed that – beyond bullying at school – this was a deeply troubled young man who wrote about cutting himself, and about horrible things he said his parents had told him.

Amherst police found that bullying that leads to suicide is difficult to prosecute – the principal witness is dead, and you can’t base a criminal case on hearsay. Many of the alleged bullying incidents were never contemporaneously reported to school authorities, and the time had passed to prosecute anything that happened during middle school.

It would appear that legislation is needed if bullying-rising-to-the-level-of-harassment is adequately to be prosecuted. There are measures pending to strengthen cyberbullying laws (something the police said wasn’t happening to Jamey on any sort of a regular basis), but the more important avenue is prevention.

While cyberbullying is the focus because it’s something relatively new, the real goal ought to be to provide kids with a safe, comfortable place to learn. The Rodemeyer case took school districts and parents by surprise, and to my knowledge only the Orchard Park system has a comprehensive, ongoing anti-bullying system in place, which demands 100% participation and buy-in by students, faculty, parents, and administrators alike.

While I think that school harassment should be prosecuted, and that the laws should be amended so that a victim’s death doesn’t halt any such action, school districts across the state should adopt and implement the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

Developed by Clemson University and the Hazelton Foundation, this program doesn’t just rely on placards and occasional “No H8” assemblies.  Instead, it includes a weekly curriculum with restorative justice elements and frequent class meetings. Every adult in the school is trained in the program, and it has a proven track record of reducing the frequency and severity of bullying events.

The Jamey Rodemeyer tragedy has many in the community demanding justice for anyone who may have contributed to his feelings of despair, self-hatred, and hopelessness. I wish that these kids could be made to understand what their words have done. It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, and civil litigation would be likewise difficult to pursue. The whole case has an aura of unfinished business about it, and society should demand better.


  • Mike Chmiel

    While I agree in principle that the evidence was probably lacking, that never seemed to thwart the Amherst PD in the past from making dubious arrests on harassment charges. I have lost count of how many people I have defended in Amherst on the same charges simply because an angry spouse or girlfriend wanted the guy thrown out of the house, or to achieve a leg-up in a divorce case.

    Bottom line, the police are not going to stretch the meaning of “harassment” under the law to go after well-to-do white kids in Williamsville.

  • Afraid of Retaliation

    Isn’t this the same crack police department that handles animal cases (like the recent black bear that wandered into enemy territory) by blasting away at him? Good job Amherst PD. They’ve never heard of calling animal control? These guys have a serious problem with lack of good judgment. Whaddaya expect? Their main function is to nab drivers so their town prosecutor can plea bargain them down to a reasonable fine — paid to the order of the town justice. Nice way to pay for your new courthouse. Never mind protecting the public, safest town in America. Better walk straight when you walk through Amherst, boy !

  • Bruce fisher is a turd

    Okay all this taken as fact let us not forget we are dealing with children. I see the point about divorce jockeying above but that is not the issue here. As the great late frank Zappa said words are words, and when we think words are enough to prosecute then we are going into a very deep dark place.
    Let us never forget why we let bad hurtful speech exist, because it is the right of every person in this country to say things we may. Not like but it can be said. the minute we start to decide what is good or bad we have lost it all.
    I am deeply sad for the parents of this child but I can not say that arrests are the answer to the problem. Try and look beyond name calling to what we want to protect.
    I am not willing to let a group especially legislators decide what can or can’t be said in any given context to allow police involvement. I hope this tragedy will only focus more attention on old stereotypes and allow a good health conversation about what is choice in the world but not at the cost of stifling free speech.