The parents of Jamey Rodemeyer, the New York boy who committed suicide earlier this month due to bullying, appeared on NBC’s Today show this week and revealed that when their daughter, Alyssa, attended a recent school dance in order to be with her friends and find comfort there, Jamey’s bullies, they say, were heard to shout “You’re better off dead, we’re glad you’re dead” when a Lady Gaga song came on and other students wanted to commemorate Jamey’s memory.
Watch the interview below:
Jamey’s sister also appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 show this week to talk about the incident at the dance. Rosalind Wiseman, a bullying expert, also features talking about how she believes that the bullying Jamey was victim to could happen anywhere and that we as individuals have to be the ones to address bullying in our own lives and communities and not pass it off as “society’s problem”:
The Amherst Police Special Victims Unit has said that it is currently investigating harassment, cyber-harassment or hate crime charges against three students at Williamsville North High School where Jamey had just started his freshman year. You can read more on that here.
Jamey’s suicide has prompted State Senator Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) to introduce legislation that would modernize New York state’s anti-bullying laws. In particular the legislation is designed to make tackling cyber bullying easier given that current laws do not necessarily cover this form of harassment.
“Our laws are not keeping pace with technology and we are paying a human price for it. No longer is bullying only confined to the schoolyard, it is now piped in an instant through victim’s computers and onto the devices they carry in their pockets. This legislation will help provide protections to those who need it, as well as send a strong message about the seriousness of this destructive behavior.”
Specifically, the legislation will update the crime of Third-Degree Stalking (a Class A Misdemeanor) to include cyberbullying, which is defiined as a course of conduct using electronic communications that is likely to cause fear of harm or emotional distress to a person under 21. The legislation would also expand the charge of Second-Degree Manslaughter (a Class C Felony) to include “bullycide.” The term is defined as whena person engages in cyberbullying and intentionally causes the victim to commit suicide.
The legislation is supported by a number of state Democratic lawmakers. For more information on that and the report that coincided with the legislation, please click here.
However, not all anti-bullying groups support legislation criminalizing bullying. The GSA for instance has said that criminalizing bullies fails to deal with the underlying issue of why they are bullying in the first place. It also places the emphasis on catching the bullies, they say, rather than focusing on helping the victims of bullying. The main point the GSA makes is that bullies are children too and that they are “acting out” the messages they are getting from the adult world so until we change those messages we cannot effectively tackle bullying no matter how we legislate, and that legislation and “zero tolerance” may cause more harm than good because it may fail mean we fail to engage with the bully and actually teach them anything. You can read more on that here.
Others have offered a counter view to this, arguing that harassment is already illegal and strengthening bullying legislation so as to ensure that there are appropriate consequences to knowingly inflicting harm upon a fellow classmate is only furthering the aims of existing law. They also point out that what we call simple bullying among school kids may be deemed serious criminal activity in the adult world and wonder why the same standards are not applied.
But what do you think? Do we need tougher laws? Or is further criminalizing bullying not the answer? Is there value in both approaches working in tandem? Let us know your thoughts.