Schoolyard Code

Kids and Teens murdering other Kids and Teens. It’s not only a parent’s worst nightmare, but society’s.

A young person with everything ahead of them, all possibility and potential. Dead. Gone. Ended.

It’s terrible enough when it’s an illness that takes their life, worse if it’s accidental – bad judgment or decisions by themselves or another person.

While the grief is the same, that loss is compounded when the death is as a result of someone else’s carelessness, lack of consideration or plain reckless disregard.A speeding and or drunk driver, for example.

Far worse when it’s an intentional action by someone and the fuzzy idea of premeditation is no comfort at all.

Is it worse that your teen is dead because someone wanted to kill them specifically or because someone wanted to kill anyone and your teen was handy or if they wanted to kill a specific someone, but your teen was in the cross fired or trying to stop the killing?

When reverse engineering, from the murder and back through the day – at what point does the circumstance change from random to pre-meditated intent?

If at the beginning of my evening, I add a knife to my accessories and at the end of the evening, someone else is wearing that knife internally.

Why does it matter if I had a history and negative feelings towards that dead and bleeding person or if it was the first time that I met them?

What if I had actually planned to kill my intended target in two nights, but came across them alone sooner and I pressed my advantage – does that mean that it’s not premeditated because it was opportunistic and not planned?

I think that we need to not entirely do away with premeditated as a criteria for determining charges and sentences, but maintain it as an aggravating factor.

If a person decides to carry a weapon, consume a lot of substances that impair judgment and then sets out to put themselves in a situation where there is a reasonable expectation of fighting or conflict – maybe a bar, maybe near a building or park where groups of people that they don’t like tend to congregate. And someone ends up dead – that’s premeditated by any meaningful measure.

The choices of weapons, substances that inflame emotions and impair judgment further and going out in public where there’s every reason to expect either a vehicle crash or a violent conflict with other people are all choices made well in advance of locating the victim.

In those circumstances, who the victim is, is practically an afterthought.

It doesn’t matter if the victims are a car with a family in it, or members of a religious, ethnic or sexual minority or just vulnerable people like street involved or sex workers.

Worse than the idea of premeditated is the after math.

Your teen is dead and many others know what happened and who did it. And no one is talking, but everyone knows either because they witnessed it, were told it by witnesses, or knew the players enough to make a reasonable and accurate guess.

In just two examples from Surrey, in the late 80’s a new boy, 12, moved to town with his father. He wanted the kids in the school to think he was cool and sophisticated and promised some kids that he could get them drugs. Money was exchanged, and the drugs were not.

The boy didn’t have the money to return, and so was clubbed to death with rocks, in front of several witnesses, and the bully and his toadies covered over the body with leaves.

There were a dozen witnesses and by the end of the day, 400 elementary school children all knew what happened to the 12 year old boy and many where his body was. No one told. Not one.

His mother arrived from Ontario and for 6 weeks, the estranged parents reunited to plead for their son’s return.

Joggers in a park near the school discovered the remains, then, and only then, did the story start to be told.

And nothing has changed. This week, two teen-aged girls from Surrey found themselves at a house party in Vancouver with 40 or so other teens.

Police attended around 1 pm, probably because someone nearby called in a noise complaint. They found a 17 year old girl bleeding to death on the lawn.

A 16 year old inside was non-fatally stabbed, and the teens partying didn’t stop the stabbings, didn’t call for help after the stabbings – didn’t even apparently stop the party – and basically attempted to flee so as to not be identified as witnesses.

The police gleaned enough to know to look for an 18 year girl, and surprisingly, she’s turned herself in once the story hit the press.

Witnesses do not tell, partly for fear of being targeted next, but mostly because of the school yard code – Thou Shall Not Fink.

Tattle tale, fink, teacher’s pet, goody goody, ratfink, informer, snitch, rat, squealer, stoolie, stool pigeon.

The terribly named movie “Scent of a Woman” with Al Pacino chewing the scenery as a curmudgeonly retired general who’s blind being the unlikely champion of a young man hired to be a companion while family is away. The young man is wrestling with the problem of having witnessed rich kids at school destroy private property – should he accept the bribe of business connections from the kids to not tell or should he obey his morals, the law, the rules of the school and identify the perpetrators.

Be rewarded by the guilty for being an accomplice after the fact and punished with expulsion for breaking school rules or, does he reject being an accomplice, give up the promised job, tell the truth and remain in school – but be penalized by the other students for breaking the school yard code.

Heady stuff. Sort of.  Without Pacino, more a movie of the week than a feature.

The school yard code is not doing the right thing. It only serves to protect those who cannot or will not or chose not to function in a society that is dependent on cooperation.

The person who needs the protect is the one at the leading edge of the knife, not holding the handle.

The person who needs the protection is the one on the business end of the gun, under the grill of the car, you know – the victim.

Not the perpetrator.

Going back to movies, in the late 1980’s, a movie was released that had a greater impact than any horror movie could ever hope for – and it’s never been surpassed. It had a largely unknown cast, a dramatic plot and it’s very ordinariness, that it could be any town with any kids, is why it was so horrifying.

The River’s Edge.

A teen-aged boy kills his girlfriend and leaves her body by the edge of the river. The group of teens that are friends, paraphrasing the words of the leader “We can’t help her now, he’s alive and our friend and needs our help”

Well, turning in your friend may not help the dead girl, but it does help the girl’s family. It helps them know why their daughter died, who killed her and know that the killer will go to jail where they won’t be free to kill anyone else.

The dead teen is the direct victim, but not the only victim. That’s the parents, sibling, family, friends, school acquaintances – there are hundreds, even thousands of victims for any person who dies – and that’s even if they aren’t a celebrity.

When I was in school in the 1980’s in Chilliwack, I recall three boys died in an accidental house fire that they were likely responsible for – cigarettes keep burning after you fall asleep. There was a girl who died of leukemia. And one boy committed suicide over his parent’s divorce.

I graduated high school in Surrey, and the school had a track record of one dead grad owing to drinking and drive 1 every two years – and apparently, ours was the year. No one died from my grad year, sorry to push pressure on the next class.

The boy who was killed by the rock and left to be found by joggers died the year I went to university. It was within 5 blocks of my parent’s house when it happened.

The 17 year old girl stabbed at the Vancouver party, was in my niece’s acting class. I probably took her photo at the Christmas play.

My niece was not at this party, it may well have turned out differently if she had. At school, when the girl’s name was released, a boy in my niece’s hearing said something astonishing. “She probably deserved it.”

There’s just not a lot that a person can do at any age that is deserving of being stabbed multiple times, left to stagger outside and bleed to death.

My niece said something along the lines of “No, but you deserve this.” Then punched him in the face. She was sent to the office, the circumstances reviewed and she is without fallout.

Well, I should frame that as punishment. There is fallout – one boy learned a lesson that you can’t be callous about senseless murder. Sometimes, that lesson needs to be forcefully taught.

And more than that, the witness to the punch learned that you can stand up to ignorance and challenge the support of bullies and murderers.

What happened to the 16 and 17 year olds at a party was not acceptable. Condoning it was not acceptable. Communicating with people in a way that they are going to understand is acceptable, for now, until such time as we can learn better methods of communication.

We are in a tipping point where the number of seniors exceed the number of children and teens – we cannot afford to lose teens on a society level, but also on a very personal and family level.

Thou Shall Not Fink covers a myriad of bad behaviours from bullying to murders.

The pressure to not tell what you know is overwhelming – don’t tell what you saw, don’t tell what you suspect from your fellow students and from the adults, it’s the opposite tell tell tell.

The risk of telling adults though is that you may not be believed, and then you’re a fink anyway.

So the way to tackle this is to make the school code the bad thing. Who does it serve exactly? the murderers and bullies.

Do you really want your child and teen supporting and protecting murderers and bullies?

And the teachers need to listen when they get information, there are indicator signs when people are going to do schoolyard or workplace violence.

Even if the information is premature, it’s early intervention that is key to breaking the bully and murder spree cycles.

Working as a group and then achieving critical mass, the Province of BC has gone from a population where the majority of people smoked to smokers being a small minority. We went from the 70’s attitude of if you recycled, you were a hippy freak to now that if you don’t recycle you are an earth hating jerk who needs to move outta town.

Why can we not rid ourselves of the scourge of the school yard code?

As a final thought, Thou Shall Not Fink is also the code that adult criminals live by – jailhouse rats added to the list.

So, worry less about pot being a gateway drug to harder drugs – because that’s a myth.

But it’s not so much of a stretch to reason that a kid steeped in thou shalt not fink at school, makes it very easy to transition into a teen-gang with that same code – after all why not – no one is telling and no one is stopping you.

(Hmmm, clearly this is the secret commandment of the Catholic Church too)

Thou Shall Not Fink is a gateway mentality to teen gangs to crime gangs.

Thou Shall Not Fink protects the perp and ensures witnesses are future victims – after all, you can’t stop at just one victim.

Criminals, be they bullies on up to murderers, can only do what we let them do.