Teen burning victim Michael Brewer’s assailants get jail

michael brewer, school violence, Deerfield Beach Middle SchoolLast week, the story from Deerfield Beach, Florida was that two of the three teens accused of setting fellow Deerfield Middle School classmate Michael Brewer on fire received jail time for their deeds. (BTW: in case you didn't know, this is the same school that saw the dreadful beating incident of Josie Lou Ratley by Wayne Treacy).

In 2009, Michael was set aflame by three of his classmates to the degree that he had to jump in a nearby pool in order to put out the flames. Michael suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns over nearly 2/3rd of his body.

According to the story in the Miami Herald, both teens pled "no contest" which means that they are willing to accept whatever punishment the court hands out, but does not admit guilt.  In addition to the jail time they were sentenced to, the perpetrators were given 18-21 YEARS of community service. When you consider that these young men are themselves 18 and 17 years old, you can see that they will be living with the results of their actions for a very long time.

One point I found troublesome in the article: (more…)

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Teen burning victim Michael Brewer blasts his school

Another victim in the recent rash of incidents, Michael Brewer appeared on the Today Show this morning. In the exclusive interview, he essentially blasts his school, Deerfield Beach Middle School as being "terrible."

Last year, according to the Florida Dept of Ed, the school had 96 incidents of bullying or other forms of school-based violence.  Put THAT in perspective, that's one every two DAYS, for your average 180 day school calendar year.  If that didn't send up flags purely from those statistics, did it take a Michael Brewer incident to get someone's attention. (more…)

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“Text Rage:” Technology doesn’t CAUSE youth violence

I don't know how many of you saw the piece on the Today Show yesterday about the teen beating incident spurred by objectional texting.

Apparently, a series of text messages were sent between the victim, Josie Lou Ratley and her confessed assailant, Wayne Treacy, both of Broward County, Florida. The text messages didn't really have anything to do with Josie Lou -- it seems Wayne Treacy was trying to reach his 13-year old girlfriend. But, because Josie Lou wouldn't help him find the other girl, Wayne reacted in anger, travelling over 3 miles on his bike to seek out Josie Lou and beat her violently in retaliation for her text messages. Another 13-year old girls is being held as an accomplice.

The incident is being termed "Text Rage" because it is similar in nature to Road Rage where people react violently to incidents while driving.  It essentially comes down to a lack of impulse control when someone feels they have been wronged.

Rather than examine the underlying cause of the violence, however, many -- including an interviewee on the Today Show -- went a different way.  The message: "parents, be careful when you give your students a cell phone."  I see...it's the TECHNOLOGY that is at fault here...improper use of the tool.  This was the same message that came out two years ago after the Lakeland, Florida cheerleader smack down (what IS going on in Florida these days...this is the same school where a students was doused with gasoline and set on fire recently).  The arm-chair quarterbacking after the cheerleader incident was to blame YouTube and the Internet.

Why are we so quick to shoot the  "messenger" in these incidents rather than the individual who "created" the message?  Yes, technology was involved in spurring the incident, but a cell phone didn't cause Wayne Treacy to turn violent. And, if a teen is willing to ride his bike over 3 miles to get even with someone, that's significant pre-meditation. The text message may have set him off, but the lack of character development that should have prevented the behavior was HUMAN. A cell phone didn't kick Josie Lou repeatedly in the head, it didn't carry out the beating, -- and to be fair to both sides, it didn't GENERATE the message that was supposedly the last straw for Wayne: a low-blow reference by Josie Lou about Wayne's brother who had committed suicide last year.

The underlying emotions of empathy and compassion that should prevent teens from "communicating" with each other in this way are lacking too often.  It doesn't take much to set off snarky, cruel comments. Yes, because these are often delivered via technology, they tend to feel anonymous and "safe" somehow, but we have to understand that we really shouldn't treat one another this way -- in any medium.

Our level of overall violence in the world is not going to decrease until we go back to a more civilized way of  interacting.  You don't know what will spur the next incidence of "rage," but I can just about guarantee you that it will not occur because you've been kind to someone.

When people ask me why I advocate teaching social skills, character and values in schools, all schools every day, I can point to examples like this one: frankly, because too many of our kids aren't getting the positive lessons and skills they need to be productive, decent students NOW (and employees, leaders, citizens later) any other way.

Josie Lou Ratley lies in a coma and Wayne Treacy faces jail because they couldn't control their thoughts, "words," and actions, and act decently when it mattered. That a cell phone was involved is incidental...and frankly, irrelevant.

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