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Too few stood up for boy beaten on bus

Post by Cheryl Tucker on Oct. 5, 2009 at 7:24 pm |
October 5, 2009 5:25 pm

Pierce Transit and Wilson High School aren’t to blame for the senseless, cruel beating of a medically fragile boy by another boy on the No. 16 bus. But they share responsibility for the disturbing aftermath.

As reported by The News Tribune’s Kathleen Merryman, a Mason Middle School eighth-grader named Casey was attacked Sept. 23 by a Giaudrone Middle School student on a Pierce Transit bus as it sat at the Tacoma Community College transit station.

The attacker’s brothers, students at Wilson High School, were accomplices. One apparently served as lookout – the attack took place when the driver was away from his bus on break – and the other photographed the beating.
Both boys are back at Wilson and have not been charged with anything. The attacker faces fourth-degree assault charges.

Also on the bus were about a dozen students Casey recognized as going to Wilson because that’s where they got off every morning before him. Some of them laughed as he was beaten; none of them intervened. Only one stayed to give his own name to police; the rest jumped off the bus and have yet to come forward.

But then, no one at Wilson has asked them to. And their parents, who must know that their children were on the No. 16, have not had them come forward.

An adult on the bus convinced the attacker to leave by telling him she was calling the police. And a Wilson ROTC student who got on the bus after the attack stayed with Casey until help came. Her reward for that was to be marked “tardy” when she got to Wilson.

In the days after the attack, no one from Pierce Transit contacted Casey’s family or returned the family’s repeated calls. But when the family put up reward flyers asking for information, Pierce Transit finally made contact – to tell them to remove the flyers.

Since the publicity over the incident, Pierce Transit is finally responding. Administrators met with the family Friday, apologized and offered to pay Casey’s medical bills. They say they will look at their policies to see if changes are needed in addition to the already planned installation of cameras on buses.

The agency will be lucky to avoid a lawsuit – one that might have been avoided had officials acted more humanely instead of following some official “process.”

Tacoma is a “school of choice” district, meaning that students can attend schools in other parts of the district. But they need to get there on their own. For many of them, that means riding a Pierce Transit bus. And in some cases, older students are riding with younger ones, like Casey.

Older students on these buses – which become de facto school buses at some times of day – should help protect younger kids. That didn’t happen here. If anything, the older students are protecting the victimizers when they fail to speak out or provide witness statements.

Wilson High School officials missed a “teachable moment” when they didn’t use this incident to remind students that they have responsibilities as members of the community. Even if the students didn’t feel comfortable intervening in the attack, more than one of them should have had the courage to come forward afterwards.

When witnesses don’t step up, the bullies win. We all have a stake in not letting that happen.

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