Is It a Hate Crime or Bullying?

In Chicago there was a crime committed earlier this week that has much of the city talking and debating. Unfortunately what they seem to be focusing on is a racial thing and not the true underlying problem behind it. A young man of 14 was severely beaten and robbed in a park near his home. His cell phone, actually his mother’s phone, was stolen. The young man suffers from a debilitating heart ailment that has caused him to undergo many operations on his heart and he was scheduled for another one sometime this year. The people now under arrest and charged with the crime are a 16 year-old and two 17-year-old youths. The one who is 16 reportedly told police they had picked on the young man, who was white, because he was “a goofy-looking white boy.” Police are now investigating whether or not to charge the three black youths with a hate crime.

There is now a debate going on as to whether or not “white boy” constitutes a racial slur. My opinion is that, if it was used in a derogatory manner, then it is. Calling me a “male” in a way that was meant to be insulting is derogatory. Words are all in how you use them. For me, whether or not this was racial is not the real issue. The real issue is that someone decided that someone else was “goofy-looking” and therefore worthy of a severe beating. I have some idea what this is like, having been “goofy-looking” most of my life.

Yes, I was picked on and bullied a lot as a child. I was a bit of a wreck when I was younger. My parents and I have a number of theories as to why this was. I was hospitalized for strange things as a very young child. I spent days and nights recovering from operations on my legs and feet and abdominal-area as a toddler. Nights in a cold, scary room without my mom and dad at an age when most kids are slipping into their parent’s bed in the middle of the night kind of messed me up. I think they call it “separation anxiety” these days. I became convinced that, at any time, people would just up and vanish from my life. I had this nagging thought in my head that I would come home from school and find the house empty with no forwarding address. My first day of pre-school was a disaster of truly epic proportions involving me literally clinging to my mother’s leg as she tried to leave me there.

So, growing up, I was an easy emotional target. I was prone to bursting into tears at the least provocation. Once bullies smell blood in the water, or in my case tears, they circle around like sharks. I was often picked on by people who never even knew who I was. It was like the “Simpsons” episode where Lisa discovers that bullies detect a special “nerd” scent and that sets them off into beating them.

I did my own cause no good by eventually gaining too much weight. I added glasses to my squinting face in fourth grade. Then someone decided I should add braces in seventh grade. Pictures of me at that time are not pretty by any stretch of the imagination. During the years of seventh and eighth grade I was often a kind of punching bag for the kids in the class. It was a common game amongst some in that class to just walk up to me and punch me as hard as they could in the arm or shoulder. Had my parents seen my arms during that time they would have wondered what the hell I was up to as my arms were covered with bruises.

The thing was, I never did anything to these people. I never insulted them. I never provoked them. They just did it because I was an easy target. I didn’t have a clue how to fight so I never fought back. The one time I did I ended up so afraid of being hurt by the person I had hurt I apologized and ran. Still, it did feel good to fight back that one time.

Bobby was the kid’s name. During certain times of the year at the school I went to through eighth grade each class would perform an “Advent” Service which was a special added church service the connected church added during the Christmas season. These services were on Wednesday night. I guess to prevent the pastor from having to do all of these himself there was a time when each class, or group of classes, would do one. This was not a bad thing. All other classes were often suspended and each class spent weeks memorizing words, verses and songs to perform. You spent hours in the chapel rehearsing. Bobby ended up sitting next to me.

Because we were being watched pretty carefully he couldn’t punch me in the shoulder. So, Bobby, being the resourceful ass he was, started punching me in the leg. I began to notice he would tense up his arm just before it did it. So, finally, I reached over and grabbed one of the short stubby pencils that were in each pew for people going to church to fill out these little cards during communion church services. I hid the pencil and waited for him to tense up. He had taken to punching me without even looking, so as soon as he did I put the pencil in my fist, point facing out, right against where he had been hitting me. Sure enough he impaled his fist right on the point.

It felt great, but he threatened me a lot. He never did do anything about it, though. Maybe my once feeble attempt at fighting back did take some of the wind out of his sails.

I was bullied in high school. Certain kids would shout things at me in the hallways. I was once challenged to a fight in a local park by a kid I ultimately ended up on friendly terms with by the end of the year.

Bullying is not cool. People who follow along with others with bullying have little or no spine. Bullying scars the bullied and it scars them for the rest of their lives. I am 35 now and I still remember so much of it. So much of it still carries with me and nothing I accomplish ever really makes it go away.

I have some friends who were bullies in their younger days. I don’t hold this against them. Lord knows I also took opportunities to bully and pick on certain people at times. I am not proud of those moments. I regret them. People make mistakes.

So the real issue in this story to me is that someone felt that someone else was worthy of being hurt just because of how they looked. I really don’t think it mattered much what color he was. These days, bullying can lead to tragedies like this one and like those at Columbine. The stakes are higher for bullies and the bullied. The scars are somehow deeper and the penalties are much more severe.

Is there any cure for bullying? I doubt it. I just hope that it never gets any worse than it seems to be.

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