Jewish World Review March 13, 2001 / 18 Adar, 5761
When will there be zero
tolerance for bullying?
THIS ONE you most likely have not heard about.
Last week, an accused criminal was led into a
courtroom in northern Indiana. The accused
criminal wore a detention uniform, and was
shackled and handcuffed as he stood before a
He was 10 years old.
His mother and her boyfriend were not in court.
The child was attending a motions hearing prior to his trial.
The child -- a 3rd-grade special education student -- had been incarcerated
at the Frederick Juvenile Justice Center for a month.
He had been charged with taking a loaded handgun to the Monroe
Elementary School in South Bend, Ind., on Jan. 23.
The child allegedly had been bullied, beaten up, teased and pushed around by
other students at the school. By his own account, he had turned to his teacher
and recess monitor about the bullying, which he said had been going on for
The boy was distraught. According to relatives, he had recently lost two
younger brothers in a house fire. The tormenting at school was driving him to
So in an effort to stop the bullying, he allegedly took the gun to school to try
to make his tormentors leave him alone.
The reason you have not heard about this case is that the boy never fired the
Children at the school saw it in his pocket. St. Joseph County Prosecutor
Chris Toth took the case to a grand jury. The grand jury did not indict the
child's mother or her boyfriend, who had left the gun where the child could
find it. But the child was charged.
So there he was in court last week for the pretrial hearing, 10 years old --
and his mother did not show up.
Andy Williams' mother -- or his father -- did not show up for his arraignment
last week in Santee, Calif., either.
Williams' name you know. Charles Andrew Williams, 15, is charged with two
counts of murder for what happened at Santana High School. When San
Diego sheriff's deputy Ali Perez tackled Williams in the boys' restroom, and
other deputies began looking for accomplices, Williams reportedly said:
"It's only me."
It is seldom useful to try to quantify pain; for the devastated families of the
two dead boys in Santee, and the families of the injured students, it is
undoubtedly asking too much to expect them to understand the murder
But if only a fraction of what is being reported about the torment of Andy
Williams turns out to be accurate, then a quite vivid picture of what drove him
to grievous violence is already visible.
The comments to reporters from those who knew him are stark:
Other teenagers "stole shoes off his feet or stuff from his backpack, and he
never fought back." "Even the people who got picked on picked on him. . . .
He would never defend himself at all. You could take the money out of his
wallet, you could take the shirt off his back and throw it in the gutter and he
would just walk away." Back in Maryland, where he used to live, his
bedroom had been vandalized, and a treehouse he had taken pride in building
had been torn apart by bullies, according to reports; in California, bigger
youngsters had twice stolen the skateboards he loved, just because they
We tell young people to bear up and get through this; we tell them that all
painful things will eventually pass.
And most young people do make it through the years of being bullied; most
But some cannot. There are those who end up killing themselves, whose
names we never hear. Lately, there have been others: Those who aim the
bullets not into their own heads, but toward others. It is an awful thing -- but
to say it is beyond understanding is not really true. When a person is pushed
and pushed and pushed and pushed. . . .
Most people are able to endure the pushing. A few are not.
It is a complicated and tragic mix. The president of the United States, upon
first hearing what happened in California, said that 15-year-old Andy
Williams, about whom the president knew virtually nothing, had undertaken "a
disgraceful act of cowardice." The boy may have done a terrible thing, but
George W. Bush has been fortunate enough to live a life considerably more
blessed than that of the anguished soul he calls a coward. With all due respect
to the president's high office, if this is the best he can do in a situation as
complex as this one, he ought to consider keeping his mouth shut.
Zero tolerance for guns in schools? Of course. If only we could figure out a
way to institute zero tolerance for those who take pleasure in tormenting the
weak -- those children who attack the children who have nowhere to turn.
In Indiana last week, a 10-year-old boy in shackles, with no one who loved
him in the courtroom, prepared for trial. In California last week, a
15-year-old boy in terrible trouble, with no one in the courtroom who loved
him, prepared for trial.
The prosecutor in California made plans to attempt to lock the 15-year-old in
prison, perhaps for the rest of his life. And perhaps that will be just; perhaps it
will be the only just way that society will be served. But as the confused and
solitary boy embarks upon his likely path to prison, here is a question for the
When will you be arresting the people who stole that sad child's
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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