Although there have been many national instances of student suicides in recent months, I don’t believe it really hit home for African-Americans until last week. Now the seriousness of the issue is ever-present as our local community tries to come to grips with the death of Jamarcus Bell.
Fourteen-year-old Jamarcus hanged himself last week after allegedly being bullied by fellow students at Hamilton Southeastern (HSE) High School in Fishers.
The current allegations of inappropriate behavior aren’t the first for schools in the Fishers and Carmel areas. Last month, a HSE football player claims he was harassed on a school bus by teammates who urinated in water bottles and then taunted him with the bottles. The instance allegedly lasted for 20 minutes. A few months ago, a student at Carmel High School was the victim in a basketball hazing case that also occurred on a bus.
Not only does Jamarcus’ death hit home because it occurred locally, but also because we have a face to associate with his death. An innocent brown face that could have easily been the face of your own child or that of someone you know. A face that held wonder, promise of tomorrow, and maybe even an inner sadness that was difficult to see on the surface. This teen’s death is unfortunate and incredibly sad.
When I initially learned of the reasons linked to Jamarcus’ death, I couldn’t help but think of my own childhood and days of being teased at school. For me, the instances weren’t as servere as any of the ones that have occurred recently – theirs were homosexual taunts and racial slurs. Instead I was teased for wearing glasses or the way I dressed (think a Black Punky Brewster with overalls and color-coordinated shirts and converse sneakers. Believe me … it was a cute look). Although the teasing I endured was minimal and generally came from an older male student, I would always go home and talk to my mom about it. While I certainly wasn’t overwhelmed with fear or grief as a result of the taunting, it still bothered me to know that people could be so mean and deliberately try to hurt someone’s feelings.
One of the things that helped me through that period was when my mom would say “things will get better as you get older. In high school, this sort of thing won’t be an issue because kids are more mature.”
That proved true for me, but for kids like Jamarcus, it’s not the case. It seems that somehow the maturity level has dwindled as kids get older. Rather than being more respectful of their peers, high school students are acting more child-like than ever before. Add social media like Facebook and YouTube to the immaturity of today’s students and we see how much further students can go with their inappropriate behavior and bullying. It’s not uncommon for kids to post pictures and videos of their crazy antics.
To combat this problem, several things need to be done. First parents need to do a better job of teaching their children how to be respectful of others. The old adage, “treat people the way you want to be treated,” still holds true today. Kids need to understand that respecting others is something that must be done at all times. If kids aren’t taught this at an early age, then they have unrealistic views of this world. There will always be someone bigger and meaner who can inflict the same torment on them as they’ve done to others. What goes around definitely comes around.
Schools also have to do a better job of holding teachers, coaching staff and students accountable. If an adult doesn’t adequately address the situation while it’s happening, then they are just as wrong as the students inflicting the torment. Also, more needs to be done to punish students who bully. If kids are notified continuously of the repercussions associated with bullying, then I’m sure the number of instances will decrease – as long as the repercussions are severe enough.
One last thing. When other students witness someone being bullied, they need to do something. Maybe intervening while the incident is occurring isn’t the best, but notifying security personnel or counselors is a reasonable option.
Tackling this bullying epidemic will take a collaborative effort. We all have to do our part to combat this problem.
Don’t forget to vote on Nov. 2. Political analysts don’t think Blacks will show up at the polls like we did in 2008 for President Barack Obama.
We have to prove that we aren’t a complacent group of people who only vote during high profile elections. This midterm election is major – locally and nationally. Cast your vote on Tuesday!
You can e-mail comments to Shannon Williams at ShannonW@IndyRecorder.com.