City Lights: Technology puts bullying in the spotlight

Dear Matt, Tom and Ricardo,

You guys are very lucky.

I say that because, back when we all sat at that table together in eighth-grade mechanical drawing, iPhones and YouTube hadn't been invented yet. So you can treasure your anonymity. And I'm happy to grant it to you — I've even altered your first names slightly for this column, to show you how merciful I am.

Seriously, I forgive you. Yes, you made my life pretty miserable for those few weeks in 1993, but two decades is a long time. I'm sure you weren't entirely bad people in the eighth grade, and I'm sure, like all of us, you've grown and enlightened yourselves since then.

I say you're lucky because I've been following the stories about Karen Klein, the bus monitor in upstate New York, and the four middle-school boys who were suspended for a year — that's right, an entire year — after a video surfaced online showing them taunting and swearing at her. There were four of them, three of you; not a big difference. And a lot of the language is pretty similar.

OK, this is an open letter, so I'll clarify. Matt, in the first few weeks of eighth grade, you and I had a nasty fight that got us both suspended for one day. You told the principal I started it; I insisted it was you. If someone had videotaped it, I could have proven that to the administration — anyway, let's move on.

So after we both salted our wounds and came back, we found ourselves at that table in mechanical drawing that we shared with Tom and Ricardo. I didn't know any of you guys knew each other, and maybe you didn't beforehand. But you sure found common ground for the next few weeks.

By any chance, did you watch that video of the boys on the bus harassing Klein? Well, that's what it was like sitting with you guys day in and day out for weeks — and remember, that video only lasts 10 minutes. Try putting up with it for a month.

Since your abuse was only verbal, I decided to take the passive-aggressive route. I smiled and laughed. I shot back witty retorts when I could think of them. I shrugged and looked unfazed. The bottom line is, I didn't cry or lose my temper, which I think is what you were hoping for.

Eventually, you gave up. Maybe my stonewalling worked, or maybe you just got bored. Regardless, the incident is behind us now, and I'm glad, for your sake and mine, that it is.

Can you imagine if we had been eighth-graders in 2012, and if a classmate had cued up an iPhone camera as you were hurling the F-word at me, asking if I belonged to a gang and speculating loudly about what I did in the bedroom? Maybe, like Klein, I would be $600,000 richer now. But you guys would not only be suspended for an ungodly amount of time. You'd also be celebrities.

Think about it. Could you imagine if, years later, when you asked a girl to the prom or applied for a job, you got automatically branded as the second guy from the left on that YouTube video? If, despite whatever good you may have accomplished in your formative years, that was all that people remembered?

It turns out I'm not the only one in town who feels this way. The other day, I spoke to Gregg Haulk, the new superintendent of the Huntington Beach City School District, and he's also glad that you emerged from adolescence, if not unscathed, at least unpublicized.

"While I think it's important that it raises the awareness, I worry about it," Haulk said when I asked for his thoughts about childhood indiscretions turning into short documentaries. "It grows very quickly. It can make those young men heroes in someone's eyes for the wrong reason, and it also takes a couple of isolated incidents in a student's life and makes people forget those young men maybe have many strong qualities as well, and they may have made a mistake."

Haulk added that his district, like others, does its best to monitor cell-phone usage, but it becomes a losing battle when nearly every kid has an iPhone and every teacher has only one set of eyes.

So again, guys, consider yourselves blessed that you got out of junior high before kids became aspiring filmmakers. My guess is that you've forgotten most of the things you yelled at me for those few weeks — and, come to think of it, I've forgotten most of them too.

It can be a blessing, sometimes, not to have a video to remind us. What's that word again for when actors run through their scenes off-camera? Oh, right — rehearsal. And I've always thought childhood and adolescence were the rehearsal for the years to come. Maybe, now that we're older and wiser, we can become famous for doing something cool instead.

With no hard feelings,


City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

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