Words as Weapons

SOURCE: The Herald Gazette 6/11/10

It was 8:30 a.m. on May 20. I was sitting on the first row of bleachers in the Bucksport High School gymnasium, filled with students at tables. A local store owner next to me had just finished recounting that the Bangor paper article about a white supremacist group writing notes to solicit members in the high school was only a hoax.

Steve Wessler, the executive director of the Center for Preventing Hate, stood in front of the room, holding the microphone, waiting for the 300-plus high school students to stop talking and listen.

He took a deep breath. “I want to tell you a story, a true story, that happened near here. Some of you may have heard about it. A young man, named Charlie Howard, attended elementary schools and graduated from high school in the Bangor area.” Steve’s voice turned somber. “Charlie stood out, different from the other kids. He was not included in games or groups. He was taunted and teased throughout his schooling. Charlie remained alone and didn’t respond to the kids who mocked him.”

Steve paused and looked around the room, locking eyes with some of the students. “Three high school boys started to pick on Charlie regularly, calling him hurtful and ugly names. Other students who observed these verbal attacks stood by, some doing nothing, some simply ignoring the scene — some laughed. No one said stop it. No one reported these incidents to the administration or police.”

Steve switched the mic from one hand to the other, again looking straight into the faces of the students. “So the three boys, construing this lack of intervention as an acceptance, took the action up a notch. They became physical, shoving him around. Still no one interfered. Then they beat him up after school. They boasted about it. Still no one spoke up.” Steve then moved closer to one of the tables and looked around at each student.

FOR FULL ARTICLE, visit http://knox.villagesoup.com/column/columnpost/words-as-weapons/330471