California City Achieves New Lows In Anti-Bullying Laws, Makes Public Entirely Subject To Other People's 'Feelings'

by Tim Cushing
Techdirt
May. 06, 2014

Just stop.

"Fixing" bullying through rushed, stupid, reactionary laws does nothing to address the issue and generally just makes things worse. Carson, CA, Mayor Jim Dear thinks he's going to beat bullying and he's going to use a new law to do it. His plan is a real gem, though, requiring only a one-paragraph summary to encompass its utter vapidity. (via Adam Steinbaugh)
Under an ordinance that will go before the City Council next week, it would become a misdemeanor in the small Harbor-area city to cause anyone from kindergarten through age 25 to “feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested” with no legitimate purpose.
1. This wording suggests there are legitimate reasons to "terrorize, frighten, intimidate, threaten, harass or molest" people aged 5-25. Sadly, the mayor fails to provide examples.

2. Thicker skin is apparently grafted on at age 25, at which point people can expect to be terrorized, threatened, etc. right up to the limits of existing laws. The subtext here is that people are expected to "grow up" and deal with bullying better at some point in their lives. That arbitrary point appears to be four years past the legal drinking age.

3. This bill is entirely subjective -- the key word being "feel." No one is allowed to make anyone "feel" any of the above forbidden feelings. As presented here, there's no "reasonable person" subjectivity bar, which makes everyone in Carson subject to everyone else's feelings.

This bill also covers "cyberbullying," which is incredibly redundant considering all of the feelings listed above. But it goes beyond simple redundancy, offering additional actionable feelings specific to electronic communications.
It cites “hurtful, rude and mean text messages” as a key form of cyberbullying, along with “spreading rumors or lies about others by email or social networks.
"Hurtful?" "Rude?" "Mean?" Have you not met children, Mayor Dear? They can be all of these things without being bullies, simply because their sense of perspective has yet to mature. The most amazing things fall out of kids' mouths. Some grow brain-mouth filters as they mature. Others don't. But most start out without a knowledge of societal norms -- the unspoken agreement that specifies that you don't point out what's different or strange or funny about someone else to their face. But to Dear, these childish statements may be treated as misdemeanors.

For additional unintentional hilarity, here's a statement from the bill's co-sponsor.
Councilman Mike Gipson, a co-author of the measure, said the goal was to make Carson a “bully-free city.”
Gipson's idealism would be admirable if it weren't completely indiscernible from the sort of thing politicians who have long since kissed their ideals goodbye would make. It's a promise that can't be kept, stated as a lofty goal towards which the city will e'er strive, even if it means criminalizing protected speech and non-criminal behavior. If this effort fails (and it will, at one level or another), the goalposts can always be moved, or the definitions changed, so that Carson, CA is constantly approaching the "bully-free" ideal.

The problem with unquantifiable goals is that someone will want to quantify it, if only to justify the arrest and booking of schoolchildren. And when you make certain activities the target, that will be what's counted. The more "bullies" it prosecutes, the closer it must be to achieving Gipson's and Dear's utopian goal. This provides twisted incentives for law enforcement and prosecutors, both of whom are now involved in a problem that used to be solved by parents and schools. Good work if you can get it -- especially if you've got a crusade on your mind -- but it's hardly a solution to a societal problem.







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