What’s Wrong With The Florida Cyber-Bullying Arrests? Everything.

“Bullying, as they are supposed to teach you in school, is when someone uses their superior power to subordinate and humiliate someone weaker than themselves. This is wrong, and it is always wrong.”

The Sheriff of Polk County...wait, no, that's Tom Cruise, searching for pre-criminals in "Minority Report." Well, close enough.

The Sheriff of Polk County…wait, no, that’s Tom Cruise, searching for pre-criminals in “Minority Report.” Well, close enough.

This is a quote from an Ethics Alarms post earlier this year, about a school that forced students to do embarrassing things in a warped effort to discourage bullying. There is a disturbing societal consensus brewing that opposition to bullying justifies all sorts of extra-legal, unethical, excessive, abusive and unconstitutional measures, and there are a dearth of persuasive voices point out that this consensus is dangerous and wrong. Those potential voices are being stilled by a kind of cultural bullying. How can you defend bullies! Look at the victims! Think of the children! What a horrible, unfeeling person you are!

This is the only explanation I can generate for the fact that none of the commentary and media coverage regarding the Florida arrests of a 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old girl on trumped-up charges of “stalking” following the suicide of Rebecca Ann Sedwick pointed out that the arrests were a travesty of the justice system, an abuse of power, child abuse, legally and constitutionally offensive, and, yes, bullying of a different kind.

12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick jumped off a building, allegedly in despair over a barrage of cruel messages and Facebook posts denigrating, insulting and threatening her, primarily from a 14-year old female rival and a 12-year-old former friend, though as many as 15 others were involved. Obviously, this is a tragedy. Her mother has been vocal about the role the cyber-bullying played in her daughter’s death. She is a grieving mother; I understand.

But cruel and mean comments, on Facebook or anywhere else, are not criminal acts; they are constitutional speech. The legal system is supposed to be responsible and dispassionate, and not impulsively arrest people it doesn’t like or the community doesn’t like, twist the laws to teach kids a lesson, or make up crimes as it sees fit after the imaginary crimes were committed. By his statements regarding his reasons for arresting Sedwick’s tween tormenters, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd demonstrated that he is a menace to society, unqualified for office, and a renegade law enforcement officer. The arrests occurred because was incensed that the older girl had posted, on Facebook,…

“Yes ik [I know] I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don’t give a fuck]”

“We decided, look, we can’t leave her out there,”Judd told reporters. “Who else is she going to torment? Who else is she going to harass? Who is the next person she verbally and mentally abuses and attacks?”

What? That statement isn’t an admission that the girl killed Rebecca. It admits two facts, as well as a lack of empathy and remorse, none of which constitutes a crime or the  admission of a crime. As for the sheriff announcing his embrace of the concept of pre-crime, someone needs to tell him, preferably in an exit interview, that he’s not Tom Cruise, and can’t arrest people to stop them from what he thinks they might do. In this case, it isn’t even pre-crime. He’s arresting a girl because she’s mean, and is likely to keep being mean. He has no authority to do that, nor should he have. Imagine who law enforcement could arrest if Judd’s standards prevailed. Luckily, they are banned by the Constitution, which may not apply in Winter Haven, Florida…at least when folks are worried about the children. Wait—the victims of this extra-legal abuse of fairness and due process are children too? Never mind, never mind…they’re just awash with horror in Polk County, so they make up laws on the spot.

That’s not all that’s outrageous with this case:

  • The fact that the dead girl’s mother says that her daughter was driven to suicide by the bullying doesn’t mean she was, though you wouldn’t know this from the media reports. Millions of kids have been bullied through the centuries, and only a tiny percentage have failed to get through the experience alive. Obviously there were reasons why this episode ended in suicide, and at this point, only the parent’s opinion suggest that no other factors were involved.
  • At least two of the cruel comments directed at Rebecca suggested that she do harm to herself. This is not murder. This is not attempted murder. This is not an illegal threat. This is meanness, and nothing else. If you tell someone to kill herself and she does, you have not committed a crime. We can not criminalize childhood hazing or legally smooth rough experience of learning how to deal with jerks. Kids have been telling other kids to eat a bug, jump out a window or drink bleach and die for as far back as human memory reaches. It’s not nice, and it hurts, and sometimes it gets out of control, but it cannot be criminalized in a democracy.
  • Rebecca’s parents are shifting accountability to children when they should be accepting it themselves. Their daughter was being bullied online and they knew it—why did they allow her to keep going online? They pulled her out of school to protect her from in-school bullying, but they wouldn’t keep her from reading messages that were making her miserable. That’s crazy. Protecting a child from bullying in school is the school’s responsibility; protecting a child from bullying out of school is the job of parents. If Rebecca was getting beaten up every time that she went to a locale, presumably the parents would order her not to go there. Why did they allow her to keep returning to the cyber-source of her abuse? Whatever the reason, it was a factor in her death, if indeed the bullying triggered the suicide.
  • Someone cannot turn someone else’s non-criminal act into a criminal one by choice. Suicide does not turn cruelty into a crime, unless the cruelty was part of a genuine intent to kill.
  • I do not believe that an adult could be arrested for what either girl wrote or said if the suicide were also an adult. In general, the criminal law recognizes that juveniles are young, irresponsible and irrational, and exercises restraint regarding their misconduct. By arresting the girls, Polk County authorities are holding young teens to a tougher standard. That is indefensible. Imagine if we arrested adults for saying and writing cruel things….
  • It seem clear that the parents of the two girls were not properly or responsibly monitoring their children’s conduct. They might have civil liability, though not surprisingly, the rogue sheriff is trying to trump up some crime for them too.

The parties that are now acting like children in this case are local law enforcement and the community, getting hysterical with grief and sympathy, lashing out, misusing the justice system to “send a message” and assuaging guilt and anger by abusing two young girls, abandoning core democratic principles, like due process and free speech, to show that it cares, and that because something should have been done, it is doing something. That something can most charitably be called “locking the barn door after the horse has escaped,” but more correctly called legal bullying and the abuse of power.

I believe that the well-meaning efforts to curb bullying will do far more harm to U.S. society than bullying itself has ever done, and this case is a perfect example.


Facts: CBS 1, 2; USA Today

Source: 10 News

193 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With The Florida Cyber-Bullying Arrests? Everything.

  1. Pingback: Voice of the Enslaved » Jim Ardis, Mayor of Peoria, Uses The Police To Crush A Social Media Critic, But Never Mind, It’s Not Important Because He’s Not Racist

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