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Two girls, 10 and 11, face criminal charges of harassment and assault of a 10-year-old girl on a school bus in a small upstate New York town, in an episode that the local police are treating as a racial hate crime.
The two girls charged in the alleged attack, which occurred on Sept. 10, are white, and the girl who was assaulted is black, the police in the village of Gouverneur, in St. Lawrence County, said.
It is now up to county probation officials to decide whether the accused girls should be prosecuted in family court, a probation department supervisor said. The girls were charged as juveniles.
“The loss of civility in this world is being played out in the realm of 10- and 11-year-olds,” Lauren French, the local school superintendent, said in an interview on Wednesday. “There is no shade of gray in this. This event was wrong on all levels.”
The girl who was assaulted had her right eye blackened from being punched, lost hair when it was pulled and bruised her knee after falling backward onto a school bus seat during the attack, the police said.
A bus aide who was riding with the children at the time and did not intervene was charged with three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, the police said.
“That this was allegedly perpetrated by her own classmates, on a school bus with an adult monitor present, makes this incident even more shocking and troubling,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement.
Cuomo, who noted in his statement that the episode had lasted 20 minutes, said that he was directing the state Division of Human Rights to open an investigation. He also said he had asked the Hate Crimes Task Force to assist the local authorities.
The arrests coincide with a national push to treat acts of bullying among juveniles as crimes, sometimes at the request of victims’ parents. It also coincides with a rise in hate-crime incidents in schools across the United States; 753 such cases were reported in 2017, according to FBI data.
“A lot of people are saying that by calling it bullying, we are not taking it as seriously as we could, and not treating it as damaging and harmful as it really is,” said Amanda Nickerson, director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo. “Some are arguing we have to elevate this to other levels.”
Some municipalities have enacted local laws that can lead to parents being fined for their children’s actions. In North Tonawanda, New York, near Buffalo, parents may be fined $250 and jailed up to 15 days if their children engage in bullying behavior. Gouverneur does not have such a law.
French, the schools superintendent, said that she agreed with the police’s decision to treat the episode as a crime, as did Mayor Ronald P. McDougall of Gouverneur.
But some anti-bullying advocates said they believe the drive to turn young children into criminals over such behavior has gone too far.
“Parents are out for blood,” said Ross Ellis, the founder and chief executive of Stomp Out Bullying.org, a national organization. “I had a mother call me who wanted a 3-year-old on the playground arrested. I get that you don’t want your child beaten up, but it’s got to stop on both ends.”
Ellis said that the girls accused of bullying should receive counseling and that school officials and the girls’ parents should meet to explore the roots of the behavior. “It’s a terrible thing that happened, but make it a teachable moment,” she said.
Gouverneur, which has 4,000 residents and is about 30 miles from the Canadian border, is 95% white and 1% black, according to 2010 census data.
The police said that their inquiry began on Sept. 10, when the alleged victim’s mother filed a complaint saying that her daughter had been subjected to “racially motivated language” and beaten up on the bus.
The police arrested the two girls on Monday after a two-week investigation, charging them with second-degree harassment. The 11-year-old was also charged with third-degree assault as a hate crime, the police said.
The bus aide, Tiffany N. Spicer of Edwards, New York, who is also white, was employed by the First Student bus company. She was released on appearance tickets and ordered to appear in court at a later date, the police said. She could not be reached for comment.
Jay Brock, a First Student spokesman, said in a statement that Spicer, 28, had been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the police investigation. “We, too, take this incident very seriously,” Brock said.
I’m not sure throwing these bullies in jail and throwing away the key is the answer but neither is a slap on the wrist. The victim had a black eye and hair torn from her head. That’s not a slight result from a fight So what is the answer? I’m not sure but the school and the bus company have to be involved and be proactive.
I very much like the idea of fines for the parents.
I’m sure Gruel will think that the two white girls deserve a medal for attacking a black girl.
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