A video went viral last week of Santa Monica High School teacher/coach Mark Black restraining a student in his classroom.
When the public first saw the video, reaction was negative about the teacher.
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Supt. Sandra Lyon issued a statement calling the event “utterly alarming” and labeling “the kind of physical restraint used by the teacher [as] unacceptable.” She further promised the family of the student involved “support that they may need.”
Then details emerged that the student allegedly had marijuana and had first attacked Black with a box cutter.
Public opinion turned, viewing Black as a hero (a collective voice saying, “Finally, a teacher unafraid of putting an unruly student in his place”) and Lyon as a villain for hastily condemning the coach without knowing all the facts.
Worse than Supt. Lyon’s rush to judgment was her rush to side with the student and offer his family assistance. One wonders, why offer to defend an alleged criminal over a longtime, highly regarded employee?
Due to the public backlash, some calling for her resignation, Supt. Lyon released a second statement days later, softening her tone toward the teacher. “In no way was our action to place the teacher on paid leave a determination of wrongful conduct,” her statement read.
On Tuesday, the 18-year-old was charged with five misdemeanor counts including threatening a school official, possessing a box cutter as well as marijuana.
A second student, who is 16 years old, was also charged with battery.
But there is one more antagonist in this story and that is the group of students who stood motionless, watching their teacher struggle with an out-of-control peer for 58 seconds without doing anything.
Yes, we don’t know what preceded or followed the video segment. We do know that the video segment is 58 seconds long, and when you watch the video, it seems to last longer than a minute.
Students had enough time to take out their phones and videotape the incident (two other student phones are seen in the frame also taping it), but no time to do something, to act, to help their teacher. Cold-blooded inaction. Forget about physically intervening because that sometimes can worsen a situation. But not a single teen can be heard on the 58 seconds even calling for help.
These young people are not eyewitnesses but “eyewitlesses.”
One might dispute this charge of apathy by pointing to the outpouring of support for Coach Black with the 22,000 likes on a Facebook page or the nearly 17,000 signatures on a change.org petition.
However, anonymously clicking a button on a computer in the comfort of one’s home is not the same type of courage as doing something about an event happening in front of your eyes.
Last month was the 50th anniversary of the murder of Kitty Genovese, the 28-year-old woman in Queens, N.Y., whose screams in the middle of the night were heard by dozens of people for 30 minutes without anyone coming to her aid as her killer stabbed her in three separate attacks before ending her life.
This is where the phrase “I didn’t want to get involved” originated and where neighbors not helping neighbors became the theme of city life.
What happened last week is not of the same magnitude as the Genovese case, but human behavior remains unchanged. Those kids did not want to get involved.
In recent years, schools have had to deal with lockdowns whenever an outside predator invades a school campus. This story highlights another kind of lockdown that no drill can defend against, and that is a lockdown of the human soul.
BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools and The $100,000 Teacher." He can be reached at brian-crosby.com.