Nearly two years to the date when a Minneapolis police officer brutally killed George Floyd, kicking off nationwide riots with far-reaching implications for America's political discourse, a mini-version is playing out in Coppell, TX, following a horrifying middle school bullying event.
To be sure - there are differences. No one died, although the bullying victim began to hyperventilate dangerously, even if briefly. The 8th-grader who initiated the chokehold is white. The boy who suffered is an Indian American. The school leadership and school board are predominantly white. The Coppell Police Department is majority white.
The incident has torn apart a diverse and affluent community in the Dallas suburb as school authorities and the police attempt to bring calm to an otherwise sleepy neighborhood. The bullying video which went viral has already attracted national attention after Yahoo! News ran a story. Indisputable, a progressive news commentary show on the Young Turks network, dedicated an entire segment to discussing it. The host, Dr. Rashad Richey, is African American, indicating that the incident has impacted other minority communities.
When the clip first leaked on WhatsApp last week, the reaction from Indian American parents was vehement. Additional details, mostly unverified and with racial overtones, trickled out. Did the School Resource Officer refuse to register a complaint against the attacker because the district instructed him? Was the victim suspended for three days, but the bully suspended for only one day? A counter thread, again unverified, circulated to say that the victim had previously threatened to assault the bully's sister, which prompted the bully to attack him.
The victim's parents took to social media to pressure the district, demanding that the bully be expelled from the school so that the victim could safely complete his remaining years of schooling. Change.org registered more than 360,000 signatures, a record for the platform. A Stop-Bullying Stop-Violence Gofundme petition had collected over $36,000, presumably for legal representation. The lawyers were already striking it rich, billing over $14,000 in fees in just three days.
The school's Anti-Bullying policy clarifies that bullying "may be verbal or written expression or expression through electronic means or physical conduct." In a May 18 message, the superintendent explained that "no student is ever disciplined solely for being the victim of physical violence," adding fuel to the counter thread. "Investigations of incidents like these often bring to light other facts that may cause disciplinary action to occur according to the CISD Student Code of Conduct." The letter only added to anxiety when it did not commit to any action against the bully. "As the investigation continues and if additional corrective actions are taken, we will share these with our parents and community."
For at least a dozen years, when then-Texas Governor Rick Perry went on an aggressive campaign to woo American companies from left-leaning high-tax states to relocate to Texas, the state's economy has been transformed. Forty-nine Fortune 500 companies now call Texas their home, just three shy of California's or New York's total. The corporate migrations have also changed the demographics of quiet Texas towns. In Frisco, a former cow pasture, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that minority races have grown by over 70% in the last decade.
The migration of Asian American families, in particular, has also dramatically changed school administration policies in Texas cities as diverse as Coppell, Katy, and Round Rock. School districts have scrambled to lower the competitive pressures on their campuses. Texas relies on class rank as a critical metric to grant automatic admission to the state's public universities. Tiger parents who watch over their wards' grade reports with a microscopic lens often demand meetings with counselors to correct the slightest grading errors.
The students' GPA chase has resulted sometimes in unethical and illegal practices. The Coppell student newspaper reported in 2015 that "cheating is the new norm." To de-emphasize the class rank fever, school districts with ultra-competitive student bodies refuse to publish the class rank until students complete their eleventh grades - and even then, only for those in the top 10%. Plano and Coppell have limited the type and number of courses each year that count towards class rank computation to limit students from hurting themselves by taking too many AP classes. Frisco allows students to exempt athletics and fine arts classes from the class rank computation, fearing an exodus of students to AP classes to drum up their grade point averages.
We believe that schools should practice a zero-tolerance policy against bullying. Period. But, in practice, bullying does occur, so the U.S. government even operates a website called stopbullying.gov. In a YouTube clip, the narrator, describing a bullying victim's dilemma, says, "And when other kids teased me or tried to block my way, my friends stepped in and told them to back off."
The Coppell incident happened in a crowded school cafeteria where the clip captures other students' voices, giggles, and uncomfortable groans. What is remarkable is that not a single onlooker student ventures to help the victim, even when he goes down to the floor. No student rings the fire alarm to attract school officials' attention. No one shrieks or shouts. Parent assertions that it is dangerous for their children to involve themselves in a schoolyard fight miss the point entirely. The hapless victim could have died if the chokehold had held a few seconds longer.
Like in the Floyd case, there are no winners here. If the district sticks to its disciplinary policies and does not do what the Indian American community demands as justice, the community would cry foul, charging that race had a role to play. For 50 years, Coppell schools have retained a brand as one of the best-managed in the state - a shine that could fade as residents move out or potential residents refuse to move in.
The intense public attention has forever changed the lives of both bully and victim. Neither can walk school hallways without attracting stares or reminding other students about the ghastly incident. And both have four more years to go before they graduate.
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