Anti-Bullying Bill has Strong Support in the D.C. Council

James Wright | 11/8/2010, 12:44 p.m.

The District of Columbia City Council is considering a bill to outlaw bullying on its public properties. The Council is joining a growing number of legislative bodies at the local, county, and state levels to address the problems of minors who are being harassed by their peers.

The bill, "The Harassment and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2010" is sponsored by D.C. Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) and would mandate that the D.C. public schools, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the University of the District of Columbia, the charter schools and library system establish policies and prevention programs to discourage and address cyber-bullying and similar offensive behavior.

"We have heard of so many incidents of this and many of our students are feeling threatened," Thomas, 50, said.

"The type of bullying going on today is different from when I was young because people are more volatile and they are prone to do dangerous things."
Bullying is defined as "to treat abusively" and "to affect by means of coercion or force," by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. In popular culture, there have always been individuals who wish to impose their own will on their peers, usually by the threat of physical violence or emotional and mental abuse.

However, the Internet, has catapulted bullying to a new plane. This form of abuse and harassment has become increasingly popular, especially among teenagers and young adults because a person can be mistreated and have no idea as to who is causing harm to their reputation. That was the case with the daughter of Vickey Wright-Smith.

Wright-Smith has a daughter who attends Alice Deal Junior High School in Northwest. She started school there in the fall of 2009 as a seventh grader.

"Just weeks after school started at Deal, somebody created a fictitious person on MySpace and that led to my daughter being jumped by several girls," Wright-Smith 44, said. "I went straight to the school and talked with the principal. At one point, the principal and I got into a heated argument about this and I decided to take it to a higher level."

Wright-Smith, an attorney, said that she approached the office of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and "her people gave me the run around." She contacted the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and said that her concerns were "swept under a rug."

The Metropolitan Police Department didn't help, either, she said. Wright-Smith, a Northwest resident, said that her daughter still attends Deal because she did not want to leave the school due to its academic standing. However, she said that while she had lunch with the mother of the girl who created the false MySpace profile that led to her daughter being harassed, the perpetuator has not been suspended for her actions.

While interest in stopping cyber-bullying has been supported in the District, it was elevated to another level when Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi committed suicide because of a tape of Clementi having homosexual sex on a web cam.

D.C. Mayor-Elect Vincent Gray is a supporter of Thomas's legislation.

"Recent tragic incidents of social media and cyber-bulling nationwide have brought urgency to this issue," Gray, 68, said. "Schools and institutions of learning have a very important role to play, along with parents in teaching tolerance, respect for diversity, and coping skills that can help diffuse incidents before they reach the boiling point of tragedy."

Gray said that cyber-bullying warrants great concern in the District.

"We all must recognize that there are kids in our classrooms and neighborhoods who are feeling trampled on and need our help," he said

"And, there are others who are perpetuators of despicable acts that we must discourage from making life miserable for their peers."

Thomas said that he will work to have his bill presented as emergency legislation that will be presented before the Council of the Whole, instead of the regular committee process. He hopes to have the bill passed by the Council before the session ends in late December.

Thomas's legislation is supported by all members of the D.C. Council. Wright-Smith said that she hopes that Thomas's bill has a mechanism where perpetuators can be dealt with.

"I would like to know specifically what is going to happen to children who are being bullied," she asked. "This is an issue of public safety and the police should be involved. There should be clear-cut, specifics on what the repercussions are for bullying."