To the youth of Juneau, we have failed you. And for that our community should truly feel sorry.
Far too many of you have been subjected to cruel, humiliating and undeserved abuse, and it’s been happening longer than many of us knew. Your classmates call it hazing; we believe the word cruelty is more correct.
We have the opportunity to unite against these practices in light of the May 31 police investigation into the abductions and paddlings of incoming freshmen by upperclassmen. To those on the receiving end of the paddle that night, know that many in your community are still working to ensure those actions are met with equal consequences. We must demand better of our young people, and it falls on the shoulders of us all to end these practices now.
To parents of the abused, we understand why you chose silence over testifying. You fear for what might happen to your child next. You know as well as we do that high school can be a vicious arena where mob mentality rules the hallways. You were being asked to subject your child to further abuse so some other parent’s kid might get a free pass and attend school bully-free. That’s not an easy request to grant.
No parent should have to make this decision alone. There is strength in numbers, as those bullying your kids know well. All parents of bullied, beaten and hazed students must band together, take action and demand change. Waiting for others to take action is how bullying is allowed to persist, fester and then evolve into something worse.
To the coaches of players who did the paddling, you must demonstrate the true character of your program and yourselves as leaders of young men by suspending those you know were involved. The school district has a list of names and is undergoing its own investigation, but you have the authority, and more importantly the responsibility, to put players on the field who represent what your team stands for. It will be a telling sign of what you hold dearest, victory on the field or off it, when we see your starting lineup take the field later this month. What you decide will become a part of your legacy and can never be rewritten.
To our school district leaders, the ball is in your court now. You don’t need to convince a panel of jurors of guilt. You know what has happened. You are the jury now, and if you have half as much evidence sitting on your desk as we do, you know inaction isn’t an option. This issue goes beyond student safety. It’s about teaching the perpetrators and those who might follow in their path a lesson between what is right and wrong. Now that school district leaders know what’s been happening, they are now liable if nothing is done and bullying escalates further or is allowed to continue.
No suspension or expulsion will match the humility or pain the victims experienced, but some justice is better than none. Our community can no longer stick our heads in the sand and pretend these things aren’t happening. Adults must not turn their backs.
Too many of our children are being physically beaten and emotionally tormented, and we all must do our part to end it before more of our youth fall victim to this senseless and cowardly ritual.