Bullying: Not Child’s Play

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Bullying: Not Child’s Play

I am still trying to internalize the idea that an 11-year-old boy hung himself in his home due to chronic bullying and gay slurs. Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover’s mother found him hanging by an electrical cord from a beam in their home.His mother, Sirdeaner L. Walker, reports that on the day of her son’s death, Carl reported that he was being suspended for five days for an altercation with a girl at his school.

His mother also reports that for the last six months she had been calling officials at New Leadership Charter School to report that Carl was enduring daily bullying and threats of violence. Some of his classmates believed he was gay and taunted him mercilessly for that. Ms. Walker says she never received appropriate support from the school and her child ultimately suffered due to their lack of responsiveness.

I’ve read various newspapers, blogs and online journals about this tragic incident, and what has been as upsetting as Carl’s death is the response by those who comment on the story. I am appalled by the number of people who see bullying as a rite of passage or that somehow Carl brought on the bullying because of his perceived sexual orientation. One commenter was especially perturbed because “those people who want to teach our kids about being gay are now using this situation to promote their agenda.”


Are people on crack?! Are you telling me that folks are only willing to protect kids from bullying as long as they are not gay? Or that being shoved around or kicked or embarrassed by a peer in math class is just what some of the “weaker kids” have to put up with?

That is unacceptable! That is crazy! That is irresponsible!

There are very few people who can report a pristine educational experience, but I believe it is more than reasonable that each child that attends school (charter, public, private) should have the expectation that their school day be free from violence. That the people put in charge of their education and safety do their jobs! That whatever your baggage is you leave it at the school house door and do your job! No child should feel sick to their stomach at that thought of having to go to school because that is where they can guarantee they will be harassed and threatened for whatever differences they bring to the school yard.

School officials should take a “zero tolerance” approach to ALL forms of bullying. If hurtful or disparaging language is used, it is to be stopped in its tracks. It should not be allowed to escalate or become a burden for the child who is being victimized.

We have no idea if Carl Joseph Walker–Hoover was gay, but we do know that he is dead and that is unacceptable.

Comments [34]

Robin's picture

I was told about this young

I was told about this young man from a coworker of mine that over heard the radio program of his mother trying to pass a bill in his memory due to the bullying in our schools all over this world. My heart goes out to you Ms. Walker, cause I too feel your pain. I lost my 15yr old daughter on Feb. 17th of this year to suicide, she to was bullied at school and a week prior to this she finally had enough and went to the office. They was to look into it and here we are nothing was done to any of the students. She was picked on because of her color(she was half black & white), she was told that she was gay because I am, & because she was emo in there way of putting it even though she was just herself. It makes me sad to see children with such behaviors because I raised my children to judge no one thats Gods job, always use your manners, and no matter what everyone is equal( we all bleed the same color.) I want to thank this women even though I will never know her because hopefully she can make a difference. This is a big issue everywhere weather people want to see it or not. And with her doing this maybe she can make the difference in another childs life that is going threw what our children did & they will do something about it before another one is lost to suicide. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

conlite's picture

I didn't "fit in" in

I didn't "fit in" in elementary school - I had moved in from out of town and had a non-standard gender identity. My elementary school had staff monitoring the playground at breaktimes. These staff, paid to keep order, looked the other way when a girl decided to victimize me to make herself popular. She led large mobs of kids to corner me in the playground and heap up the verbal abuse. I was big enough that they didn't dare physically attack me - as long as I was careful about not turning my back or letting my guard down.

After a few months, my parents finally found out why I was coming home unusually grouchy. They went to talk to the principal immediately. He initially offered no help, but politely told them that they needed to help me fit in better (ie. "you are bad parents"). My mother replied, equally politely, that she and my father both had taken judo classes in their youth and if the school was not prepared to protect me from becoming another bullying homicide case then they would just have to enroll me in martial arts classes.

The principal, terrified of the thought of gang warfare breaking out in his playground, immediately and easily ended the bullying.

Sometimes school authorities may be unaware of bullying or have their hands tied by legalities, but I don't think that's true in even the majority of cases (and I have worked as a teacher).

Tiff's picture

Sadly, I'm not at all

Sadly, I'm not at all surprised at the hateful comments people make. Remember Larry last February? Someone made this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQWDMhuidrg
Look at the comments below it. It's disturbing.

Xanadu's picture

So many YouTube comments are

So many YouTube comments are disturbing ... it really is a slice of life. People talk about political correctness taking over, well - one look at the net dispells that!

The anti-gay comments disturb the hell out of me, but I always read them as a reality check (and give them a thumbs down) ...

I particularly 'love' the men who only go on female singers videos just to call them fat and ugly (Heart and Wynonna are two of their favourites!) or describe the sex act they would like to do ... YUCK.

Lake's picture

just a little fyi....Our High

just a little fyi....Our High School implemented a program where upper classman mentor 2 or 3 incoming freshman through out the entire year. The upper classman have to apply, write an essay, and interview with the faculty to get in the program. At the end of the year the freshman write how their mentor was and how much they helped them. My teenager is involved in this and really believes it is curbing the bullying problem. The district has also implemented a zero policy for it. This is all with very little taxpayer money, if any. It can be done and it can be done involving the kids.


mysticsmb's picture

This sounds like an excellent

This sounds like an excellent program--I love when kids are utilized to solve kid problems. The worst bullying, though, seems to come in grades 4-8, and I don't know if this kind of mentorship can work at such a young age. But who knows, maybe it could--kids are growing up faster and faster these days.

Xanadu's picture

As an ex bullied kid, who's

As an ex bullied kid, who's close friends were actually some of the most popular kids? (figure that one out!) this subject hits a sensitive nerve.

Through most of my school years, my teachers were aware of what was happening (with much of it occuring right in front of them). I often got the vibe that teachers enjoyed observing this 'social experiment' and viewed it as 'character building' for my shy self.

My parent's were pro-active, involving the school counselor and talking to teachers and a couple of times directly confronting the bullies parents (who never believed their little darlings were at fault).

The number of times I heard "Well, it takes two" from parents and teachers, makes me feel ill just thinking about it ...

I can say from experience that it doesn't "take two" -

It takes one 'person' with an over-inflated sense of self (ego) and a personality disorder, who see naturally quiet, good, sensitive kids as prey.

I've never bought into that COMMON theory that bullies are just kids who are suffering themselves or have a lack of their own self esteem. I've known a number of bullies and this is not the case.

I have since had many of my bullies 'poke' me on facebook to be my friend (PASS) ... but what I know about their lives, is that they have gone on to be VERY successful in management positions and are earning big incomes from their 'People Management Skills'!

The girl who inflicted the most psychological warfare, now has a highly paid job in 'Corrections' (prison) PAROLE ... Melanie found her true calling ...

I breathed a huge *SIGH* of relief when I finished school (thinking it was all over) ... and was then faced with my first two bosses being complete bullies!!

I've now learnt to 'nip' these people in the bud early on when tested ... otherwise it all just gets UGLY.

Xanadu's picture

Sorry - I wrote a novel! ...

Sorry - I wrote a novel! ... actually, I really could write a book about this topic!

Rusty's picture

"I really could write a book

"I really could write a book about this topic!"
Sounds like an excellent idea.

"When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will." ~ Pollyanna

Steph H's picture

Absolutely no need to

Absolutely no need to apologise - we all have stuff that hits very close to the bone and it's cathartic to share it. Sorry to hear you had such a rough time at school Xan. You're approach now to nip it in the bud is absolutely right.

Rusty's picture

Schools take action and

Schools take action and institute zero tolerance policies only after they are forced to write checks with a bunch of zeros. I hope the family sues the shit out of the school and any administrators who ignored the problem.

The Chair of the Board of Trustees Peter J. Daboul is going to "begin an investigation 'to ensure that the school responded in an appropriate manner'" Sounds like he already has the conclusion figured out.

"When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will." ~ Pollyanna

mysticsmb's picture

It's a charter school, so

It's a charter school, so most likely it's publicly-funded, which means the family would kind of be suing themselves, the taxpayer. And the question is are taxpayers willing to properly fund schools so they can administer such policies? In many towns they're barely willing to pay their teachers any adequate salary...

Rusty's picture

Mysticsmb, I understand and

Mysticsmb, I understand and appreciate your perspective on this, but I believe change in attitude will come a lot faster when it costs more to ignore a problem than to solve it.

Funding anti-bullying policies is not cost-prohibitive but expensive lawsuits may wake the public up to the problem.

Material is already available for schools to use. There's no need to reinvent the wheel. Less than 10 seconds online research turned up too many resources to list. Did anyone know that February 27th, 2009 was International Stand Up to Bullying Day? I didn't. I'd post the link, but then it takes too long for my comment to post so anyone interested should just Google it.

"When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will." ~ Pollyanna

mysticsmb's picture

OK, but if we're going to use

OK, but if we're going to use litigation as a deterrent then let's go to the source and say parents of children who bully can be held responsible in civil, and maybe even criminal, court. That would certainly go a long way toward 'encouraging' them to police their kids.

In my experience, much of this kind of abuse takes place going to and from school, not actually on school property.

Rusty's picture

If the parent is aware and

If the parent is aware and does nothing to stop the bullying civil litigation (in cases that warrant it); if the parent encourages the bullying then hell yes to criminal charges.

In California, when a child leaves home to go to school and until they get back home after school, they are subject to school regulation. For example, if they commit vandalism or get high they can be suspended or expelled from school even if it happened off school property.

"When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will." ~ Pollyanna

mysticsmb's picture

And the parents could be held

And the parents could be held financially responsible for restitution in the case of vandalism, whether they knew about it or not. I think it should be the same with bullying--that's what I meant about using the threat of legal responsibility as a deterrent. Look, I know the schools have a role to play, but I'm tired of overextended parents abdicating many of their parental duties and dumping problems that they should be dealing with on beleaguered schools, then complaining that their kids don't learn enough.

minniesota's picture

I'll try posting the URL to

I'll try posting the URL to the site, Rusty:

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

Not2Taem's picture

Policies like that less

Policies like that less dependent on the value of the dollar than they are on an appreciation for the value of children.

minniesota's picture

Such a beautiful child. This

Such a beautiful child. This is a tragedy and as LBDL said, heart breaking.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

minniesota's picture

Also, there are some blog

Also, there are some blog topics for which it is very ironic to see right below it an invitation to "Share and Enjoy" for the networking sites.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

ba.nan.a's picture

On October 20th 2007, a boy

On October 20th 2007, a boy named Shaquille Wisdom committed suicide, he was 13. He was bullied, stuffed in a trash can and all that FUN stuff, all because he told a "friend" he might be gay. The principal of his school said he heard rumours about it but "he [Shaquille] didn't show any signs of being a victim." I didn't even know what to think about that, it's bullshit. Well I guess hanging himself from the stairs was a pretty good sigh huh.

Maybe I'm just still angry because I went to school with him for 3 years and he was friend but the truth is that school officials don't do shit.

It's fun getting home from school to have all your buddies on MSN with "R.I.P Shaq" in their names. It's funny because you would think that these things don't happen in Canada. ha ha ha. what a joke.

At least the mother of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover tried. Shaquille... I can't even say because I don't think I should since it was never released publicly. My point is that you're SUPPOSED to be able to go to school officials for help, especially when your parents/home life is fucked up. Well it clearly doesn't work that way. And the sad thing is, there were still people who posted things like "What a big, gay, and dumb NIGGER." in the Facebook group. It still kills me to think about this, I don't know, it's just sad.

mysticsmb's picture

As shocking and tragic as

As shocking and tragic as this story is, I'm not ready to jump on the 'it's the schools fault bandwagon.' Everyone wants to believe some party could have prevented this boy's death. But as the daughter of a teacher and sister of a victim of bullying (which by today's standards wouldn't even register) I can tell you that the school and its employees are limited in what they can do. In many cases they run the risk of making the bullying worse. Also, children are preternaturally adept at disguising bullying in the presence of adults so that it flies under the radar of all but the most vigilant teachers.

The people who most need to be doing their jobs are the PARENTS of the children who think it's ok to bully. Were they notified about the situation? Even if they weren't, given the atmosphere in schools these days it's high time they had a mandatory 'bullying talk' with their kids, just like they have the birds and the bees talk. And THEY are the ones who have to set a zero tolerance/your-grounded-for-life policy if they learn their children are involved in that kind of behavior.

Not2Taem's picture

mystic, I agree that the


I agree that the primary responsibility for instilling a sense of respect and morality lies with the parents. However, as an elementary school teacher in a district that has now nominally instituted a zero tolerance policy for harassment of students or employees based on sexual orientation, I often observe situations where inappropriate behaviors are ignored, if not promoted by staff. Yes, teachers have learned to reluctantly address such behaviors in my presence. When unaware of that presence, they may deliberately turn away, smile or laugh, and often chastise the victim for being a baby or tattling. Then there are comments made by the staff, often within earshot of students.

Yes, children can be devious at times. They can be cruel and creative. There will always be things that we cannot prove. But there are also cruel adults who think that even in public schools their religious and personal beliefs have a higher value than rules of protection. There will be those who do not speak up due to fear of retaliation. And there will be those of us who seek an approach that allows us to stay in the environment and limit the damage.

mysticsmb's picture

Thanks for the 'insiders'

Thanks for the 'insiders' viewpoint Tae. Having been educated in a secular and quite 'enlightened' school system I guess I forget what kind of compromised educators we have out there. And if the teachers are like that, god, imagine the parents--scary.

Keep fighting the good fight and saving the world, one child at a time.

LongBeachDogLover's picture

I bet you're an awesome

I bet you're an awesome teacher Tae..... Smile

Not2Taem's picture

Thanks, LB. I try, but

Thanks, LB. I try, but reading things like this has a way of reminding me of how many times trying has not been enough. So many hearts, minds, and bodies have been needlessly damaged.

LongBeachDogLover's picture

"His mother also reports that

"His mother also reports that for the last six months she had been calling officials at New Leadership Charter School to report that Carl was enduring daily bullying and threats of violence. Some of his classmates believed he was gay and taunted him mercilessly for that. Ms. Walker says she never received appropriate support from the school and her child ultimately suffered due to their lack of responsiveness".

If these reports are accurate Mystics, it appears that his Mother was pro-active in reporting the bullying behavior to the proper officials. The school appears to have been non-responsive, however....I'm sure that each side has their own opinion.

Regardless of the finger pointing, a young boy is dead. And, as a community of people, we are all culpable if we don't do something to stop this type of emotionally, devastating behavior when we see it, or become aware of it.

Whether it's a parent, teacher, or neighbor........ we must learn to take care of each other, and stop divesting ourselves of our responsibility. It could have been one of my nephews, or my neighbors son. I would feel horrible thinking that I could have done something to help, and did nothing.

We also need to keep in mind that... those who 'bully', grow up. What type of adults do they become when they're not educated about the negative, and painful effects of their actions. Something tells me that our prisons are full of criminals who feel that tormenting others is acceptable behavior, i.e. adult bullies.

mysticsmb's picture

Yes, his mother was proactive

Yes, his mother was proactive with taking it up with the school, but I'd need to know more before determining if their response was in fact inadequate.

You're right: a boy is dead, and he's not the first and won't be the last if we as a society don't do something about it. While many parents may view this as some sort of rite of passage and turn a blind eye, or think 'if i survived it, they can too' the stakes are much TOO HIGH these days. We have to talk about this and in no uncertain terms declare 'not in my city, town, or school.' And in my mind it's parents who need to initiate this kind of dialog with their schools, not the other way around. A school's primary task is to educate, not to play social worker.

A little anecdote on what happens to bullies who grow up. My best friend growing up (and to this day) was a bit of a bully--a 'ringleader' she would have been called in those days. She didn't do anything horrible by today's standards, but she certainly made a couple of girls lives miserable for a while. I managed somehow to play both sides of the fence, and because of my sister's experience of having been bullied, I never partook in any of that behavior, but I also didn't call my friend out on it either, probably out of fear. Eventually my friend did a 180 and became good friends with one of the girls she frequently tormented and begged for forgiveness. I don't know what made her see the light, and to this day she remembers and regrets what she did, but she went on to graduate from an Ivy League school, be top of her class in Law School and raise two of the kindest, most thoughtful children it has been my pleasure to know.

The reason I tell this story is because I don't think all bullies are the same, and I think it's probably a more complex social phenomena than we give it credit for. All the more reason to take the time to address it properly.

Michelle Sewell's picture

When I was in the 7th grade I

When I was in the 7th grade I went to a predominately white middle school (I am black and was one of a handful of blacks at the school). In my 8th grade year a neighboring middle school closed (more mixed population) and a good portion of the kids were bused to my school. I knew a lot of the kids from the neighboring school because I lived in their school zone when I was in elementary school. When the school year started there was an instant clash of culture and race.

For whatever reason a group of black girls, who knew me from elementary school, decided to target me. I was somehow a trader for getting along with the white kids at the school. It didn't help that at the time I also had a white boyfriend. They found a way to pick and harass me on on a regular basis.

It all erupted after try outs for the girls' basketball team. We had a significant snow storm a couple days before try-outs. But the day of try-outs school was open and I made sure my butt was on the bus because at 5'9 (I'm now 5'11)I had every intention of making the team. The school day and tryouts when off without a hitch. A couple days later I found out that I was going to play forward on the team. Yippee! Again, I was the only black kid on the team (I think only two of us tried out...lol). Then I started hearing rumblings of "racism" when some of the black girls who did not come to school the day of tryouts were not allowed to do a make up session to get on the team. Eventually, the administration allowed for the girls to tryout because of the "disruption" of the snow. None of them made the team.

On the day of our pep rally to introduce the various winter sports team, the "slighted" girls corned me in the gym and announced that they were going to kick my ass aferschool. As promised, when I came out of basketball practice, there were no fewer than 20 girls and a bunch of looky-loos waiting for me in front of the gym. I think what was so surprising was the mob mentality of it. Even the daughter of one of my mother's best friends was a part of the crowd. When it was clear they were not going to let me pass, I prepared myself to fight. But I didn't anticipate the level of venom that the "slighted" girls were carrying around. Before I knew it someone swung an umbrella at my head and I immediately hit the ground. Once you are prone, you lose the fight. They took the time to kick, punch, and spit and on me while I was down on the ground.

Eventually, a janitor and teacher heard the noise and came out and broke it up. Everyone scattered like roaches.

What I remember most about what happened next was the decisiveness displayed by the administrators. This was before mandates, zero tolerance, or social workers in schools. Every one of the core girls involved in the attack was suspended. The onlookers were given enough detention to block them from a quarter's worth of extracurricular activities. Parents were called and letters place in files. For the rest of the week, every class that I went to each teacher apologized that I had to go through such an awful experience.

I have never felt so safe and supported in my life. The message was clear - we are not putting up with that kind of mindless, unprovoked bullshit in our school.

When the girls returned to school I felt no anxiety because I knew that the school had my back. The girls stayed out of my way and I was allowed to play on the basketball team without further incident.

I occassionally see some of the girls around. Some seem to have great lives and families, but a good many made some poor choices that they are still paying for.


Rusty's picture

"I have never felt so safe

"I have never felt so safe and supported in my life. The message was clear - we are not putting up with that kind of mindless, unprovoked bullshit in our school."
That has to be the message from every school. It's beyond the time that bullying is treated like a rite of passage that you just have to make it through.

"When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will." ~ Pollyanna

mysticsmb's picture

Wow, Michelle, thanks for

Wow, Michelle, thanks for sharing your story. I think the vividness of your recollection is a testimonial to how much impact these situations have on us at a very formative time. I'm glad the school officials acted so decisively, though I have to say I'm surprised these girls didn't find some other way to retaliate when there was no adult supervision. Perhaps that's because this was back in the day when kids had a bit more respect for adults and the rule of law than they appear to now.

minniesota's picture

Michelle, I am so glad

Michelle, I am so glad someone had your back and I'm glad you were able to play basketball.

I have a memory of a couple of girls threatening to punch my older sis and I on our walk home from school (early elementary years). It happened a couple of times. I don't know what made us decided to stand up to them, but maybe it was because we were tired of being skittish when walking home. But one day, as we approached them instead of acting nervous, we stood up to them and told them to stop it. They backed down and we never had trouble with them again.

I don't ever remember telling our parents. I just remember feeling good that my sis had my back and I had hers.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

Fastgurrrl's picture

Michelle, thanks for your

Michelle, thanks for your words. RIP, Carl.


LongBeachDogLover's picture

This is

This is heartbreaking.........