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Jewish World Review March 21, 2001 / 26 Adar, 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports


"I'm not proud to say
that I witnessed this"


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- "WE were in 5th or 6th grade when it all started for David.

"Whenever our teacher had to leave the room for any given reason, it started. Five or six of the biggest and toughest guys would start pounding on their desks with their fists.

"They would be chanting: 'Stupid [David's last name].' They would pound their fists harder and faster on their desks until it was like a drumroll.

"Suddenly they would stop. They would all jump up and run over and start punching him. At least three punches from each of them. Some days they would lift him up, along with his desk, and drop him about four feet, of course after punching him.

"I am not proud to say that I witnessed this. What did David do? He tried not to cry, he'd duck his head, and he'd try to reason with them. He'd ask them, 'Guys, please, stop. Please!' Some days he did cry.

"The rest of us were scared, and we just tried to remain invisible. Everyone knew you couldn't tell, because then they would get you after school.

"What good has come of this, if anything? I am 51, and my husband is 52. I have taught my children that it doesn't cost one dime out of their pocket to be nice to someone. If there was a kid in school who no one talked to, I encouraged my children -- no, pushed them -- to be the one person who might make a difference.

"As for David, well, I did run into one classmate about a year ago. I asked him if he ever saw David. He said no, but that he heard he had had a couple of nervous breakdowns. This haunts me to this day. I wish that I would have done something."

That account -- from a woman on the West Coast -- was one of many I have heard in the days since the column about bullying ran a week ago Sunday. The details differ, but the connective thread is the same: Children and teenagers torment a boy or girl they perceive as weaker -- and no one says a thing. No one offers a word of help; no one speaks out to say it is wrong.

Why? "The rest of us were scared, and we just tried to remain invisible."

If some of the stories I have been told in the last few weeks concerned anyone but children, the police would step in to stop what is being done. When you tie someone to a fence and leave him there; when you surround someone in a shower and urinate on him from every direction, so that he has nowhere to run; when you dump someone in a garbage can and then, as he begs you to let him out, pelt him with food and ice; when you have daily contests at school to see how long it will take to make a friendless girl cry; when you invite a child you have always shunned and excluded to an overnight sleepover, and when -- excited and happy to finally be accepted -- he shows up to join you, and then, just as you have planned, you force him into a corner, soak him with cold water, and leave him there alone and shivering all night, too afraid to get up and tell the parents of the partygiver, too humiliated to call home and ask his mother and father to come get him. . . .

This goes on daily. The law requires school attendance, so the children who are subjected to this have little choice but to walk right back into it each morning. It is not just the blatant acts of assault, like the ones described in the paragraph above; it is the small moments, the ones that cumulatively make a boy or girl begin to feel worthless. "Being picked on day by day is wearing on the soul," one person told me. "Here I am, 39 years old, and I still remember. After a while, you just want to be left alone, so of course they bully you some more. . . ."

Wearing on the soul. And because the souls are the souls of children, it is permitted to go on.

How to stop it? It always begins with one voice -- one voice that is unafraid to defy the crowd. Once one person has the courage to speak up, the end of the pain can begin.

Next time, you are going to hear such a voice. It belongs to a 12-year-old girl in South Bend, Ind., who I admire more than words can adequately describe. You will have trouble comprehending the depth of the cruelty of what was done to her one weekend this month -- and, because she is unafraid to talk about it, and she is so much better a person than the children who did it to her, you will begin to see where hope, and the answers to all this hurt, reside.



JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

Up

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