School Violence and Bullying Requires a Community Response.

Author:Bullock, Jim
Position:Special Section on Bullying Prevention

REPORTS OF ACTIVE SHOOTERS in our schools have become an all too often occurrence. When these horrific events occur, the media, eager to scoop the story, begins its dissection of the troubled individual and the search for the motive behind the behavior. As the public debate in the media takes place, the focus turns to the means by which the violence is committed and does little to address the underlying reason for the violence. The debate becomes political and responsibility is often assigned to hot button topics such as gun violence or mental health. Too often an obvious reason for the behavior is overlooked. For when the political fray has calmed down, and the cases are reviewed, we find that the perpetrators are victims of bullying.

As a small town prosecutor, the possibility of school violence is ever present and is accompanied by the fear that should such an event occur in our community, it could easily overwhelm us and our ability to respond. When school violence did come to my town, the results were not catastrophic due to early law enforcement intervention. Because there was a quick intervention, and no catastrophic incident, we could review the cases without intense media scrutiny and public opinion interfering with the investigations. As a result, we could candidly review the triggering event. Our two primary cases involved a high school football hazing incident and threats made by three teens to "shoot up" their school in response to being bullied.

In small town America, there has been a long-time culture of hazing and bullying. This "rite of passage," and the mindset of "this is the way we have always done it," have long been viewed as normal but are simply unacceptable in today's society. These attitudes prompted the high school football seniors to target the underclassmen and for classmates to bully the school "loners" in my community. Clearly we needed to develop a response to these cases. Simply prosecuting the few individuals involved for their behavior would have minimal impact because it would do little to address the underlying behaviors that triggered the criminal activity. My community was fortunate to intervene before any actual violence occurred due to aggressive law enforcement intervention and swift judicial response. The investigation by law enforcement, assisted by the Office of the District Attorney, immediately initiated juvenile petitions in order to bring those adolescents involved under court supervision...

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