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Bullying: Slapping young kids with a misdemeanor in Carson, CA

The Carson City Council in Southern California are championing a proposal that would make it a crime to pick on others and will vote May 20 on a proposed law to slap children from kindergarten to age 25 with misdemeanor charges for bullying. The kids and their parents could face a fine of $100-200.

The proposed law would mean a $100 fine for a first-time offender even if the child is only a kindergartener. The law covers cyberbullying as well.

The Carson City Council gave preliminary approval this week to an ordinance that would target anyone from kindergarten to age 25 who makes another person feel “terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested” with no legitimate purpose. That’s pretty broad and vague.

First-time offenders could be ticketed for an infraction and fined $100. A second infraction would cost $200, and a third-time offense could bring a criminal misdemeanor charge.

“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.

Adults who bully would be charged with either an infraction or a misdemeanor, which could come with jail time.

The measure also would cover forms of cyberbullying in the city of 93,000 people in Los Angeles County.

It’s unclear how the Sheriff’s Department would enforce the law, since infractions and misdemeanors rarely are doled out unless the crime is witnessed by a law enforcement officer, officials said.

Full Disclosure: As the founder and Chief Executive Officer of STOMP Out Bullying and a national bullying and cyberbullying prevention expert I was interviewed about this very subject.

First, there is a difference between picking on someone and bullying. The term bullying is so over-abused many think that even the slightest incident is bullying.

Bullying is painful. No argument there. But if a 5 year-old or even an 11 year-old calls your kid “ugly”, do you really want that child to go to jail? Will the jail allow your 5 year-old to bring their stuffed teddy bear with them?

Victims are in pain and must be empowered to handle name calling. Other more serious offenses of bullying such as death threats do call for being handled by law enforcement.

But we must look at the root of the problem and ask “why are kids bullies?” Rather than send off to a jail, it’s better for all concerned to get the bullies therapy and help change their behaviors.

And honestly, if you send a 5 year-old to jail for being a bully – what population in the jail would they even fit it?

As told to Reuters during my interview, the measure is going way too far.

Brendan Hamme, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, told Reuters that the ordinance is too vague and does not indicate out how much jail time an offender could potentially face.

It’s interesting that Carson is pushing this law. There is much bullying legislation across the country. But if schools don’t enforce these laws (and many are not) what is the point of any legislation?

Since this story broke, several parents of bullied children have contacted our office saying “Send kids to jail for being bullied. “ We’re even hearing from older folks who were bullied when they were kids who sadly, still let their painful bullying incidents define who they are and want to see bullies go to jail.

We hate seeing any child in pain and for the adults who can’t let go, we’re sorry for them as well. But to send a child to jail for calling someone a name – that’s just too over the top. Let’s change their behaviors. Let's educate parents about appropriate behaviors for their children. That’s the place to start!

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Ross Ellis is also the Examiner for:

National Parenting Examiner
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