Bullying —- It’s the New Door to Criminalization of Our Children.

I’ve been waiting for this to happen the minute I saw this “zero tolerance” approach to bullying developing around the country.  I wholeheartedly believe that we need to create school cultures that are based on respect, inclusiveness, and …restorative justice. Not starting police records at earlier and earlier ages.

I flinched when I saw the article Bill Would Make Bullying a Misdemeanor Crime in the New Mexican.  Based on her experience as an elementary school teacher and principal, Representative Mary Helen Garcia  from Las Cruces believes that charging a student who is bullying others with a misdemeanor is going to help with the problem.

The bill isn’t targeted toward children. In fact, the language of the bill is quite short:

A.  Bullying consists of a pattern of intentional
conduct, including physical, verbal, written, or electronic
communication that creates a hostile environment and
substantially interferes with another person’s physical or
psychological well-being, and that is:
                (1) motivated by an actual or perceived
personal characteristic, including race, national origin,
marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity,
religion, ancestry, physical attribute, socioeconomic status,
familial status or a physical or mental ability or disability;
or
                (2) threatening or seriously intimidating.
           B.  Whoever commits bullying is guilty of a petty
misdemeanor.  Whoever commits bullying that results in bodily
harm or substantial emotional distress is guilty of a
misdemeanor.
The problem is it is too short.  There is nothing here to suggest that children might be treated differently than adults; schools are different from workplaces. There is certainly nothing here that would ensure that patterns of institutional racism won’t kick in and lead to a whole new wave of criminalization of children.
My experience with bullying was in a horribly overcrowded middle school jam-packed with racial tension and a white staff that reinforced patterns of institutional racism (and yes I knew something was wrong way back when I was 12 – that’s how explicit it was). Some of the bullying was a way for my fellow students to react to the situation…to have some power.
According to the article, “The state Department of Health, in an analysis included in the bill’s fiscal impact report, said nearly 30 percent of all youth in the U.S. are involved in bullying – either as victims or perpetrators. The department contended there seems to be a “strong relationship between bullying other students and experiencing later legal and criminal problems as an adult.”
lf this bill is passed as is, I’m confident that we will be reinforcing that relationship.  This bill is a prescription for telling children who need help that they are just little criminals on the track to jail.