In an effort to curtail bullying, the city council of Carson, California, has proposed a law that will bring misdemeanor charges against any young person from kindergarten age to 25 years old, who makes another person feel "terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested," reports The Associated Press.
The final vote on this ordinance will take place on May 20. For the first offense, there could be a fine of $100; $200 for a second offense; and a criminal misdemeanor charge could be filed against the perpetrator on the third offense.
"If a child is bullying someone, and a parent has to pay a $100 fine as a result of that, a responsible parent will realize their child needs some help," said Councilman Mike Gipson, who introduced the ordinance and is spearheading a campaign to make Carson bully-free.
The measure also would cover forms of cyberbullying in the city of 93,000 people in Los Angeles County.
It is unclear how officials will enforce the law since, in order to charge a person for this crime, it is usually necessary for a law enforcement officer to have seen the infraction or evidence of it. Lt. Arthur Escamillas of the Carson Sheriff's Department was quoted as saying that a fitness hearing would be required to try a child for criminal acts.
If this becomes a law, Escamillas wonders if children riding a bicycle without a helmet would also be issued a ticket. The Sheriff's Department leadership would have to make the decision as to whether or not a child would be charged with a misdemeanor for bullying. Gipson says that bullies are repeat offenders; and that there is a pattern where bullying is concerned, reports David Ingram writing for MSNBC.
The new proposal is getting mixed reactions from the community. Supporters remind the public that children will not be treated in the same way that adults are punished. Fines imposed on young people will, naturally, be paid by the children's parents. The hope is that this will be an incentive for parents to get help for children who bully. Some examples of the sort of help are after-school programs and involvement in community outreach.
Opponents of the law agree that bullying is an important issue and needs to be acted upon, but disagree on how bullying is defined in the ordinance wording. The Southern California ACLU says that schools should have anti-bullying programs in place, but should stop short of "punitive damage".
The US Department of Disease Control and Prevention says the way to combat bullying is through education and other preventative strategies. Criminalizing childhood bullying is a school-to-prison pipeline, according to the ACLU. That is, the most at-risk students are often pushed out of the classroom and into the criminal and juvenile justice systems.
Jessica R. Key, reporter for the Indianapolis Recorder writes that bullying in the Hoosier State is handled by the Department of Education in conjunction with school counselors and safety specialists. Together, they develop the guidelines put in place to prevent bullying. Indiana House Bill 1423 also requires that all incidents of harassment be documented and, if necessary, law enforcement be brought on board if the harassment turns into physical assault.
A Carson City Council report states that 28% of students in grades 6-12 have been impacted by bullying and that the percentage is higher for overweight, disabled, or gay children.