Stopping bullies has become a prime focus on the political front, recently. It is no surprise people worldwide reacted to an Australian student who stood up for himself after being bullied by another. Bullying is a practice that has existed since the beginning. The Jewish and Christian faiths reference the biblical stories from Genesis of Cain and Abel as well as Joseph and his brothers as the earliest examples of bullying.
Individuals are likely able to remember a time when he or she was bullied, was the bully, or witnessed someone being bullied. The experience for the bullied victim can take not only a physical toll but also an emotional one that will last long into adulthood. I should know. I clearly recall the days of being bullied and harassed during my grade school and middle school years.
Growing up with a mild stutter, which some may catch me falling into from time to time during my audio interviews with Congressional members today, I was continually a target of harassment by my school peers. Add on the fact I was labeled a tom-boy for my love of playing sports as well as if not better than many boys in my class. Obviously, these things only made the target on my head grow larger.
The Casey Heynes – Ritchard Gale story was an instance I could truly relate to, as I remember the day I finally stood up for myself and faced possible suspension for my actions.
It was an overcast morning in 1988 (cue the Def Leppard music now). First period gym class was always a drag, because one never looked that great for the rest of the day after quickly showering before the next period.
I began noticing some girls preferred to stand around during gym as opposed to participating, so they would not get sweaty or mess up their hair. I did otherwise, and I relegated myself to wearing wet or half-blow dried hair for the rest of the class day.
The morning run around the track was never something anyone ever looked forward to. I ran with my best friend, “Ahmad,” that day. His circumstances with our class were no better than mine, as he was a closeted homosexual at the time, and everybody in school made sure he knew that in the cruelest of ways.
Luckily, he had (as he still does today) a sharp wit and stinging comebacks that could make any bully walk away cringing. That day in 1988, I relied on my fist.
A group of 13 year-old boys who had consistently given me problems for two years jogged past us in a pack. Along the way, “Mike” shoved me hard. My father previously told me that if anyone ever laid a hand on me in a threatening manner, I should retaliate in kind. This was advice coming from someone who previously served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Catching up to Mike, I shoved him back. This led to Mike grabbing and twisting my right arm. In a moment, which could only be described as George McFly decking Biff, with my left hand, I punched Mike in the mouth.
As his braces filled up with blood from his lip, he released my other arm and asked through his tears, “Why did you do that?” I sobbed as well and answered, “Why do you keep bothering me?” The same two questions were repeated between us, until I offered to take him to the nurse.
The reaction from the middle school’s vice-principal was I was at fault. Faced with a pending suspension as punishment if I did not write an apology letter to Mike and his family, I waited on my parents who spoke to the vice-principal the following morning.
“Mr. Picket, why do you think Kerry punched Mike?” asked the vice-principal.
“Because I told her to,” my dad replied.
Apparently, not much has changed in public schools since I was 13 years old. The vice-principal winced and lectured my parents that violence is not something that should be taught as a resolution to bullying problems.
“I knew girls from other schools who went around punching boys for no reason and they are now in jail,” he explained.
My dad, according to my mother, was clearly angry at that point. “ Are you telling me my daughter is going to jail?” he asked firmly. “She went to the teachers and nothing happened. She went to the guidance counselor and nothing happened. So, I told her if she was ever physically threatened again, she should defend herself.”
My parents left the vice-principal’s office after noting that I would not be writing any apology letter. In the end, I was never suspended and never wrote an apology. More importantly, those boys never bothered me again and that day on the school track was never spoken about until many years later.
A few years ago, I saw Mike almost 20 years later at a reunion gathering in my hometown. Our conversation was jovial and we talked about what each of us was up to.
“You know, I remember that day when you clapped me in the face,” he jokingly remarked.
Apparently, Mike still did not know why I hit him about 20 years earlier. After hearing what I went through before the incident, he responded: “Oh my God. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know that. I really didn’t know.”
“It’s water under the bridge, Mike,” I said. “It’s all good.” And it still is.
However, I cannot keep myself from being bothered by the public school system that continues to preach to bully victims that physically defending oneself is never the answer.
The school does the victim no favors this way. In essence, when the school punishes the victim, it is the school administration that seems just like another bully to contend with everyday.