The suicide drama “13 Reasons Why” concerned many educators and parents when it became a hit because they feared copycat suicides. My response was different. I feared the behaviors portrayed in the series that led to the dramatized suicide would lead to more teen tragedy. I hoped that the popularity of this show with kids would force them to confront the ugly reality of the power of words and the importance of kindness. I hoped it would make them think or smile or offer a hand. But the kids in Bedford, Pa., didn’t get the memo.
Fifteen-year-old Sadie Riggs should be looking forward to her Sweet Sixteenth year, working her first job, dating boys, and hanging out with friends. Instead, she’s gone and her family is left with the ruin that is teen suicide. Sadie took her own life after suffering abuse from bullies at school. Her family’s message to her tormentors is devastating. They wrote in her obituary:
Sadie had a tough life and until a recent incident at school she handled everything life served her. For a young lady so excited about going to the High School things sure went terribly wrong for her. For the bullies involved, please know you were effective in making her feel worthless. That is all between you and God now, but please know that it is not to late to change your ways. Sadie’s death has taken us to dark places, we will stick together and protect one another as we try to make sense of this tragic loss.
Has the time come to stop wishing bullies had behaved themselves and writing maudlin TV dramas that don’t move anyone to repentance and instead start handing out consequences? I want to know who did it. And I want to give them all their fifteen minutes of shame (and serious jail time). When you accidentally kill someone while driving, it’s called vehicular manslaughter and you absolutely can go to jail for it, even if you didn’t mean to kill someone. Why is causing a suicide any different? Recently, Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for urging her boyfriend to commit suicide via text messages. Carter faces up to 20 years in prison and is awaiting sentencing. It’s a step in the right direction that Carter is facing the music after her heinous actions led to the death of someone she claimed to love.
God bless Sadie’s family for trying to reach the bullies through reason and kindness, but if that had worked on them, Sadie might still be alive. Whoever contributed to the death of this bright-eyed child of God ought to be hauled in front of a federal judge. If she were my daughter I wouldn’t stop until every one of them was made to face the consequences of their actions. Bullies will continue to do what they do best until they are physically restrained by someone more powerful. This has been proven throughout history, from large-scale warmongers to small-time corrupt board members. A bully doesn’t stop pulling the wings off flies because you tell him to stop. Someone has to make him stop. In the case of these high school humiliation mobs, that someone must be the law. It is not legal to harass, intimidate, blackmail, or threaten anyone outside of high school. Why is it allowed inside high school and all over social media as if laws don’t exist there?
It is far past time for our laws to catch up to the age of information. Most states don’t specifically mention email or cyberbullying in their anti-harassment laws. My personal experience has been that this means if you are receiving death threats or harassment by email or in any other electronic form, law enforcement yawns and tells you to go pound sand. If the same messages had been sent to my U.S. Post Office address, I could have had the FBI at my disposal issuing warrants and hauling the offenders off in handcuffs! But because the wheels of justice and government creak painfully along, our laws are still decades behind our current reality. If you don’t believe me, read this article on how the government was still doing Y2K research! That’s so old that half of you reading this were conceived that night and have no idea what Y2K even is! (Don’t worry, it’s not even worth explaining. We didn’t all die. The robots didn’t win. That’s all you need to know.)
I’m tired of lives slipping through the cracks because some bureaucrat somewhere is too lazy to apply the law properly. If you’ve ever gotten a close look at how and why some people are charged with a crime and others aren’t, it’s enough to make you throw up your hands in despair and sign yourself up for deportation.
My prayers are with the Riggs family. I pray that they will see justice and that the perpetrators will be found, tried and jailed. And prayer is the only worthwhile thing to do, because it’s going to take a miracle.