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City Lights: Technology puts bullying in the spotlight

July 02, 2012|By Michael Miller

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.

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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.

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