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California city plan to criminalize bullying would charge children as young as 5

Councilman Mike Gipson
Councilman Mike Gipson
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Police in Carson, Calif., had better practice using smaller words and giving violators of a putative new city ordinance a chance to stop crying when reading them their Miranda rights. Carson is on the verge of becoming the first California city to criminalize bullying, and charges would be filed against children as young as 5 years old.

From the Press-Telegram:

If the City Council puts its final stamp of approval on the plan May 20, the new law would take effect June 19. On Tuesday, all five council members voted tentatively to push through the change in the city’s Municipal Code.

“This is a very serious issue that we face not only in the state of California but throughout the United States,” said Councilman Mike Gipson, who introduced the ordinance and is spearheading a campaign to make Carson “bully-free.”

“A few months ago in Compton, we had a young man who was bullied from middle school to high school,” Gipson said. “That young man, in high school at a parent-teacher conference, stayed in the restroom while his parents waited for him in the car. His mother went to find him in the restroom, and found that he’d taken a gun and committed suicide because he was bullied in school.”

Bullying is not an issue to be taken lightly. The Centers for Disease Control report that bullying can result in physical injury, social and emotional distress, and problems at school. It is also widespread, affecting as many as 20% of high school students nationwide. The question facing experts, however, is what to do about it.

The CDC recommends educational programs and prevention strategies. But those namby-pamby techniques don’t go far enough for the city of Carson, which wants to make it clear that bullying won’t be tolerated — no matter how young.

Under the law, bullying wouldn’t actually be treated as crime. As a misdemeanor, however, it would come with punishments ranging from a fine ($100 for first-time offenders) to jail time for adults.

Gipson, who introduced the zero-tolerance ordinance, told reporters:

I know that people don’t want to hear the word misdemeanor, and I also know that something needs to happen relating to kids preying on other children. That’s not right. 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 [sic] child needs some help.

Not all of Gipson’s fellow council members are on board with the ordinance as he envisions it. Councilwoman Lula Davis-Holmes supports the measure but not the severity of the penalties child bullies would face:

I’m a mother, and I think I’m in favor of this but I would not want to go to court for a 5- or 10-year-old and say: ‘You’re charged with a misdemeanor,’ We’re creating another problem here by saying it’s a misdemeanor…. I want to pass it, but I don’t want to put this label on young people.

Carson has previously taken a hard line on social problems by toughening its Municipal Code penalties. In July 2010, the City Council declared the Carson “drug-free” and posted signs to that effect. Under the code, drug violators can be charged with both a felony and misdemeanor for the same crime, which theoretically extend their fines and sentences.

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