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.