Bullying By Its Right Name: Assault and Battery; Andrés A. Alonso’s Apologia

Richard E. Vatz, Ph.D.

Bullying has become the topic du jour in Baltimore City. In what one hopes will be an infamous op-ed piece in The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore County Schools CEO Andrés A. Alonso writes the following, after referring to victims’ threatening suicide as a result of bullying as an “incident:” “The reflexive response to school-based bullying is often to exclude the bully. That doesn’t work. Last year, the Baltimore City Health Department released a study that showed a strong correlation between children who had been suspended multiple times and those who committed, and were victims of, homicide. Children who bully are themselves almost always victims of bullying — and even violence —and they replicate with other kids what they see adults do. So to remove them from school is, in essence, to condemn them to a cycle of violence. It is a narrow and unconscionable solution.”

That remark is fatuous in a number of ways: “exclud[ing] the bully…doesn’t work…” Doesn’t work for whom? It indeed works for innocent victims. Bullies are often victims of bullying; so what? Batterers are often victims of assault and battery as well; should that excuse them or does it argue for counseling the poor dears?

Speaking of assault and battery, in response to CEO Alonso’s article of surrender, a Sun reader wrote a letter pleading, “First let’s get away from the cute little word ‘bully.’” That correspondent is right, but what is the appropriate rhetorical appellation? “Assault and battery.” That’s what most bullying is — criminal threats and/or attempts to commit violent injury — albeit it is perpetrated in schools mostly by minors.

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(Not always, of course. When Yeardley Love’s apparent murderer — please spare me that his attorney interprets the requirements of his job as saying the killing was an accident; I am not speaking legally — George Huguely cowardly attacked a sleeping roommate, one assumes he was a legal adult.)

What do legislators think of defining bullying as “assault and battery?” Well, in Virginia a proposed bill provided “that any person who engages in the bullying, harassment, and intimidation of a student on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored activity shall be subject to punishment for assault…”

The bill failed.

How do school officials below the rank of Mr. Alonso act? There are no statistics of which I am aware, but, anecdotally, years ago many principals would not put up with bullying, favoring suspensions, expulsions, and, long ago, corporal punishment.

One example does not prove typicality, but in the late 1990’s Cockeysville Middle School had a principal who, according to many witnesses, avoiding confronting accusations of bullying (again, assault and battery) at all costs. In some of the cases parents confronted bullies’ parents, with the result that the bullying was stopped.

What the schools should have is a two-strikes-and-you’re-out policy. The first confirmed accusation should result in school and parental confrontation with the miscreant student and possible suspension if the bullying is a battery. A second confirmed battery should result in the expulsion of the perpetrator.

Draconian? Think of the effects of living in abject fear of even going to school – for all waking hours of a day.

Is this a panacea for bullying – assault and battery — in schools? Of course not: some parents of delinquents are not at home, and others do not care. Some young people are inveterate felons-in-waiting.

But it would be a start. Baltimore County Schools CEO Andrés A. Alonso’s perspective is his sheen for perpetuating City students’ horror of constantly living in panic, fearing for their safety; it is, however, quite reassuring to all students intent on terrorizing their fellow students.

Bullying assaults and batteries have always been around, but not always suffered with a wink.

Let’s have some action.

Professor Vatz teaches an advanced Persuasion course at Towson University

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