Jareem and Carl are their names. They are regular boys, children you might know, boys you might see playing on a schoolyard in your neighborhood. And they are boys whose basic human rights were not adequately protected.
Oftentimes when we think of defending human rights, our minds go to far away countries—places with foreign names such as Bosnia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone. And when we think of the violations of the rights of children we usually envision sweatshops or remember the photos we’ve seen of tiny African boy soldiers holding rifles that are longer than their bodies.
But the faces of those children that need defending and the location of where the abuses of those children are occurring isn’t exotic or far away. The children are in our neighborhoods and the abuses are as close as the local schoolyard. And the abusers aren’t adults forcing children into slave labor or recruiting them as soldiers. The abusers are other children—children who taunt, harass, beat, and torment those who are different and unable to defend themselves for any number of reasons. And those who assist these abusive children are the adults who stand by doing nothing, telling the abused to buck-up or who believe that harassment is a “rite of passage” or “just one of those things” that kids do, adults who, perhaps, think that children harassing other children is “no big deal.”
It was certainly a big deal to 11-year-old Jareem Herrera--such a big deal that Jareem committed suicide by hanging himself in his bedroom closet.
The same was true for Carl Walker-Hoover, another 11-year-old boy who saw suicide by hanging as the only relief from constant school bullying.
Both of these boys went to school in the United States—Jareem in Georgia; Carl in Massachusetts. Both boys endured constant harassment. School officials were repeatedly made aware of the abuse these boys were suffering and yet it continued on and on.
How does this happen? While I have no inside information into either of these two cases, I do have personal experience with bullies and bullying at school and if my personal experience is any indicator then the answer as to ‘how this happens’ is especially disturbing because it happens because it is allowed to happen.
In my own case, I was verbally harassed, physically threatened, and actually beaten on occasion. Not only did reporting the situation to officials not help relieve the abuse, it actually caused it to escalate. I was told not to be a “snitch” or to “just stay away from them” and when the children realized that there were no consequences for their actions, they realized they were free to do as they pleased. If this is the way harassment is still handled in schools, then it is truly a disturbing situation.
However, in the cases of Jareem and Carl there is another aspect that is perhaps even more disturbing than the idea that their abuse was allowed to go unchecked. And that aspect is the idea that in both cases both Jareem and Carl were targeted and harassed for being “gay.”
That children, prepubescent children, are being harassed for their “sexuality” is indicative of a deep pathology in our society. Children learn what their parents and their society teach them. And when children decide that the most hurtful, shameful label to place on another child is the label of “gay,” we know what society is teaching those children—that the open hatred and persecution of some human beings is still acceptable. And as a result, two children, children who probably had no concrete sexual identity at all, decided death was preferable to life if life included even so much as the possibility that they might be “gay.”
Jareem and Carl were their names. They were children. They were boys whose vulnerability was not taken seriously and their human rights were not adequately protected. And they were children who lived in a house across the street—not in a country across the ocean.