Bullying and the Code of Silence

October 25, 2010


Richmond City students remain tight lipped about school violence.


By Ameesha Felton

In movies, bullying is portrayed as a rite of passage. The older, bigger children taunt the younger ones, “toughing” them up and in the end the child usually turns out OK. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality in U.S. schools.

According to the U.S. Justice Department one out of every four children in the U.S. is bullied each year.

To combat the growing issue many states, including Virginia, have adopted strict laws to protect students.

However, Richmond’s public school district doesn’t seem to need the help. According to data from the Virginia Department of Education, Richmond schools reported zero incidents of bullying in 2008-09, ranking them lowest in the state. However, after reexamining the report more closely, it became evident that there’s something terribly wrong with this picture.

Richmond city reported zero incidents of bullying but of the largest school districts in Virginia, it has the highest incidence of fighting among students. Richmond reported having 26 fights per 1,000 students, which is more than twice the state average.

Irvin Carter of the Richmond Sheriff Department says the imbalance in these statistics doesn’t surprise him.

“It just may be the case that people aren’t reporting it when you get into that urban setting, there are groups that roll together so when you talk about the bullying piece, kids may be reluctant to talk about it because it could be tied to a group of folks, that in turn may lead to retaliation,” said Carter.

Shalik, a senior at a local Richmond high school who wouldn’t give his last name for fear that he may be identified agrees with Carter.

“Around here if someone takes your lunch money, later they’ll get banked (ambushed and fought by a group of people), we have friends from our neighborhood that we run with so nobody bullies around here.”

Carter says these children don’t blow the whistle on their offenders, instead they rely on   neighborhood formed groups to protect and retaliate for them.

“At lunch the Northside sit with the Northside and the Southside with the south, if they don’t bother us we don’t bother them,” Shalik said.

Carter is concerned that bullying may be happening in Richmond schools but because of the “street justice” and  “snitch-free” culture among students, many incidents go unheard.

“Just because they don’t report it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen,” Carter said.

This code of silence among Richmond city students is well understood among adolescents and younger groups.

An 18-year-old male, playing football on the lawn of Midlothian Village apartments, in south Richmond stopped to be interviewed but soon regressed  when learned the interview required him to give his full name.

“I  don’t want to be viewed as a snitch. Respect is important and around here, you don’t talk,” he said.

It’s a community where the fearful go unheard and justice is dealt with on the streets. Which concerns Carter that this behavior will eventually breed more violence.

That’s why he said the Richmond’s Sheriff’s Department is committed to building a trust between Richmond’s youth and law enforcement. Carter said they’re striving to help children and young adults understand the cost of violence and  to find ways to fight it.

He said, the Sheriff’s Department facilitates crime prevention lectures that offer advice to children and help build rapport between children and law enforcement. They also have the ROADS Program, which offers jail tours to middle school (plus) groups.

Carter said these programs are helping. “We are well received by the students. We did the back-to-school rally for kids that were incarcerated and gave them school supplies,” Carter said.

However, he doesn’t credit all of the success to fun and games. Carter says he understands that these children have to be reached where they are. Although they may not report bullying or other incidents to officials, it’s paramount that they understand that there’s a higher, stricter justice system to deal with outside the walls of their neighborhoods.

“We give them an up close and personal view of what it’s like to be in jail, it’s sort of like a scared straight situation, that has helped people a lot I’ve seen it first hand,” Carter said.

Whether or not Richmond Schools have bullying incidents that have gone unreported is hard to determine, but Carter believes that this data should serve as a red flag to indicate that another process needs to be created to identify bullying in urban areas like the Richmond.

“It seems that there’s a flaw in the way they determine who’s being bullied in this school system, and I think there needs to be another way, another method in place to get that information,” Carter said.