If you can get past all the Tiger Woods stories the most disturbing thing in the newspapers recently is the horrible story out of Massachusetts, where a young girl named Phoebe Prince, 15, hung herself after being bullied unmercifully by a group of at least nine "nice" American kids.
Prince had recently moved to America from a small town in rural Ireland where her teachers said "Phoebe was bright but sensitive." Not two qualities to possess in Facebook World where kids here videotape each other fighting, having sex and anything else you geezerly might have thought was a private activity.
There is no privacy anymore.
And you can't count on adults. School officials of South Hadley, Mass., all in heavy denial mode now, knew at least something about Phoebe's problems fitting into her new environment. School officials won't be charged though, a common theme in an America where the poor do most of the time even if the rest of us do most of the crime.
This heartless gang of educational bureaucrats won't be charged despite the fact that the South Hadley district attorney said the girl's harassment had been "common knowledge" amongst school officials.
Luckily, at least six of those devilish adolescent bullies who hounded a little girl to death because of her accent and her small-town ways, are being charged and ironically they are also receiving hundreds of threats a day on their Facebook and Myspace pages.
Phoebe Prince's story really moved me because as an eighth grader and high school freshman, I was bullied unmercifully by kids who had been my friends. In seventh grade we were all five-feet tall and I was included in everything. By the end of eighth grade I was still five-feet tall and bespectacled. Everyone else had grown. I was exactly the same kid but no longer popular.
My bullying got worse during my freshman year at an inner city Catholic high school we were all bussed into from our lower middle class suburb. Priests there watched me get punched and pushed in the hallways. Saw me get my books taken away and they did nothing. On the bus going home my seventh-grade girlfriend led the taunts.
The reason the bullying grew even worse, I figured out later, was primarily because I seemed so hurt by it all. They had been my friends; I had been popular. But the more I tried to fit in on some days and ignore it on others the worse it got. My grades dropped and my parents started riding me about that.
It may have never ended and I might have ended like poor little Phoebe except underneath all the hurt feelings I was growing my own little rage. Little Dennis's volcano blew between world geography class and religion class in the spring of my sophomore year.
I was growing but still a shrimp, maybe 5 feet 4 inches and 115 pounds. Two boys, both six feet were throwing my textbook back and forth over my head. I looked closely at them. One guy was 200 pounds, the other was 150. Without thinking I picked the skinnier guy, ran at him and leaped up and hit him with the best right hand I had. He went down and because he was surprised, fell awkwardly. The entire room heard his leg snap. He looked angry and scared there on the floor. I readied myself to hit him again if he got up but he couldn't. He started crawling around in a circle and crying.
Priests came in the room and dragged me out and suspended me on the spot. The principal came out to my house and made my hard-working, hyper religious parents feel bad about their little pre-gang days thug-of-a-son.
Everybody felt bad but me. I felt righteous. And when I went back to school I had a new nickname, "Killer." A lot of the kids who had picked on me tried to downplay the fight and said if my victim hadn't broken his leg he would have whipped my butt. They tried to make my new nickname a joke. But I noticed no one punched me, no one pushed me and no one touched my books. Ever again.
Then, between sophomore and junior year I sprouted. It was like time-lapse photography. I grew 8 inches and added 40 pounds in four or five months. Suddenly I was 5" 10' and 150 pounds. My hair grew longer, I bought an old car and girls started flirting with me.
I began dating. A lot. Girls from public schools. Girls I didn't know during my two nightmare years of being harassed daily. And, although I was friendly enough with some of my former tormentors who were now nice to me again, I hung out with the kids who hadn't bothered me in my early high school days -- the so-called greasers, guys destined to work in factories and gas stations. Guys who weren't phony. Who didn't care about popularity.
Then in my senior year I began flirting with my old bus tormentor. In the ways of high school girls, she'd told people I knew she thought I was "so cute." She seemed to have forgotten tormenting me mercilessly.
I took her to the drive-in a couple of times, made out as we used to say so quaintly about kissing until your lips bled, and then I invited her to her senior prom. I sent a corsage to her house the afternoon of the prom, dressed up in my best sport coat and then went to the drive-in with my real girlfriend, a young beauty just up from Kentucky who wore too much makeup and was considered "fast" by the so-called nice kids who wanted an engagement ring first.
My parents were horrified. They were friends of the "nice" girls parents. They were worried I would be an outcast. But what I became, for years, was the rebel without a pause. The bullying made me a writer and reporter because I knew there were darker things under the brightest surfaces. And I could see that Them: the adults in charge, often merely wanted to act like everything was just peachy keen even when it wasn't. They were much harder on the boat-rockers than the bullies if the bullies looked like younger versions of themselves.
I've calmed down a lot in the 45 years since I busted a kid's leg and ruined the prom memories of some snooty little girl, but I still hate bullies like the group of "kids" who literally hounded Phoebe Prince to death. Like the so-called former honor student from South Seattle who was one of a gang who beat Tuba Man to death in a Queen Anne bus kiosk, got away with it, and is now charged in another violent crime. All these vicious little cowards should get the same punishment they gave out to their innocent victims.
Bullies deserve their own medicine.
I wish I'd known Phoebe Prince because I would have told her, and any other kid being tortured by his or her peers, while adults in charge ignore it, the only way to stop this is to fight back. And if you lose, fight back the next day. And the next. They'll eventually stop because almost all of the "nice" folks who bully smaller people, bully underlings at work, or taunt people who look different than the majority, are merely cowards.
"Phoebe," I would have said, "It's the lone wolf with the sharp teeth who's cool not the overfed sheep. Never hurt yourself, always hurt them." My two years of torture would have ended on Day One in the eighth grade if I hadn't tried for two years to be "popular."
Phoebe, I would have said, "self-defense is never a crime. Defend yourself!"[[In-content Ad]]