When hotter heads prevail

When hotter heads prevail

Jacqueline LeBlanc

fight culture
Infographic by Trisha Chaudhary
Then a freshman at Jefferson Junior High School, sophomore Larrell Green walked into his locker room ready to prepare for the last two football games of the year against West Junior High School and Oakland Junior High School.  He was upset and it had been a bad week, and football offered an escape to him.
But the sport that Green loved so much wouldn’t be able to provide him solace after learning from a fellow teammate that he had been kicked off the team. After talking to his coaches, Green handed in his equipment and left the facility.
Prior to arriving at JJHS for football practice that morning, Green sat in a bleak room in front of the Columbia Public Schools Board of Education.  He was on trial for hitting his principal during a fit of rage.
On the day of the incident, Green was sitting in the JJHS cafeteria in study hall at the end of the day.  He had gotten into an argument with another student earlier in the day and was looking forward to going home. When the bell finally rang, instead of gathering books and catching the bus like he had planned, Green was exchanging blows to the head with the other student.
“Me and someone else had gotten into an argument.  He was talking about me and stuff, and I just got mad about it, and I tried to walk away from it, but he just kept like pushing me around,” Green said. “He came up to me [at the end of class], and I turned around, and we just started fighting.”
When Green and the other student began to swing, administrators rushed to halt the fight.
“We started going at it, and the principal was like pulling me off.” Green said, “I was so mad that I just accidentally swung at the principal, and when I did that it just made it worse. I didn’t know what to do, so I was just fighting.”
Green was sent to the office and immediately sentenced to 10 days of out of school suspension in a program called ACE, which is an alternative program sponsored by the University of Missouri-Columbia, located in West Junior High School.  While in the alternative program, Green awaited his hearing in front of the CPS school board to hear whether or not he would be expelled or sent to a detention center, since it was not his first incident of a fight. Green ended up spending 15 days of suspension in the program before he was able to have his hearing.
“They brought the principal that I had hit into [the hearing], and I apologized to him,” Green said. “Him and the judge were talking back and forth about what they were going to do about [the situation] and in the middle of it I apologized to him for what I did, and he understood where I was coming from. He knew I didn’t mean to hit him. He knew that I was just super mad, and that’s why I did it.”
If a student in CPS physically fights another, and it is that student’s first offense, that person is given a five day suspension.  On the student’s second offense the he or she is given a ten day suspension.  School Resource Officer Keisha Edwards said if a student fights at all it is considered a crime and he or she can be charged with peace disturbance or assault and consequences vary by age.
If the fight is mutual, it’s considered a peace disturbance, but without consent of both parties, it’s considered assault, Edwards said. Because fights are considered a crime, the fighters are arrested and the police handle the case. Students sixteen and under are juveniles, while 17 and older is considered an adult. If the student is considered an adult, there is a possibility that he or she is released on summons. Edwards fills out a form and then the student is released and promises to appear in court or transported to the police department where the police will have to post a bond for either the assault or peace disturbance.
In 2011 the Centers for Disease Control surveyed a nationally represented sample of youth. Twelve percent of students in grades 9 to 12 reported being in a physical fight on school grounds preceding the survey, while 16 percent of male students and 7.8 percent of female students reported being in a physical fight on school property in the 12 months preceding the survey. Off school grounds, 32.8 percent of youth in grades 9-12 reported being in a physical fight in the 12 months preceding the survey; the prevalence was higher among males (40.7 percent) than females (24.4 percent).
At RBHS there were four physical fights between students first semester according to Edwards, and only one fight last year.
Elizabeth Johnson, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Liberty, Mo., said the drive to fight depends on the situation; however, most of the time it stems from natural survival instincts.
“We all have a survival instinct of fight, flight or freeze, which says if you’re in danger or there’s a threat to a person, you’re either going to fight, you’re going to freeze or you’re going to run.” Johnson said. “You know animals get aggressive when they’re under attack and we’re no different. There are times when they view a perceived threat and that’s the thing with humans is that it doesn’t have to be a physical threat, it can be an emotional threat. Say they’re being bullied, say they’re being made fun of or say they’ve got triggers on their self esteem that are bad, sometimes they’re going to want to fight.”
Johnson said the urge to fight can also be caused by stress, trauma and self-esteem issues. This year at RBHS, Edwards said the majority of fights can be attributed to social media sites. While Johnson said fighting is mainly contributed to self-protective instincts, the need to observe a fight can be caused by culture.
“We live in a culture that we are adrenaline junkies.  If you look at the movies today versus even the movies from the ’80s, you are seeing … more fascination with fighting and violence in general, so it’s kind of this culture thread. This culture that says, ‘Hey, that’s a big deal,’” Johnson said. “When you’re scanning the crowd and something violent is happening, it’s kind of like seeing a trainwreck. If a trainwreck is happening in front of you, are you going to look away? No, you’re going to look, and thats part of nature. And part of that response is knowledge and curiosity. And curiosity can protect you because if you know what is going on, then you might feel safer or you might be able to protect yourself.”
Junior Riley Johnson believes there is nothing wrong with watching a fight as a bystander, and that fighting is just a natural way of dealing with problems. Although he has never been in a fight himself, he holds the philosophy of “duking it out until one gives up.”
“Especially in high school, diplomacy between students gets you nowhere. To actually get something done, you have to knuckle up,” Johnson said. “I enjoy watching fights because it gives me the opportunity to see who is all talk and to see who is a better fighter so I know not to mess with them. I find it interesting to know the reason behind the fight. Usually it’s about something ridiculous.”
Johnson once recorded a video of two people fighting in junior high, and while he hasn’t recorded one recently, he said that it’s only fair for bystanders to videotape a fight.
“I think it is perfectly fine to videotape them. People need to see what happened exactly so there is no rumors.” Johnson said, “I don›t think that the videos should be posted to YouTube unless consent is given by both parties. It’s fine if it is posted only if no names are associated with the video.”
Edwards said there are no consequences for watching or recording a fight. However, bystanders could play a larger role in the outcome of the fight, Edwards said.
“Here’s the thing about a bystander:…They could be the instigator to keep the people fighting … or they could be participants in fights,” Edwards said. “They could be bystanders one moment and then the fight ends up on the ground and now they are participants in the fight because they have chosen to get in and kick.”
Instead of being expelled, the police department charged Green with peace disturbance and assault, and he was sentenced to 20 hours of community service. He also had  the choice of which junior high school he would attend for the remainder of the school year. He decided to attend WJHS, in order to give himself a fresh start and change his ways. Although he would attend WJHS instead of JJHS, Green believed he would be allowed to finish the rest of the football season with his team at JJHS. However, when he became aware of the fact  that he wouldn’t be allowed on the team anymore, he learned the intensity of the consequences for his actions.
“I thought I was still on the team, but I [wasn’t]. I got real mad,” Green said. “I couldn’t do football anymore, and I wasn’t allowed on school grounds. … I just gave up on sports … and I was so hurt that [I couldn’t play]. [I was going to be on the RBHS football team] this year. I started going to the practices in the summer,  but I was going through all that stuff so I had to stop.”
Ultimately, Edwards believes the consequences for people who do engage in a fight are usually greater than just the disciplinary aspect. She said every student who speaks with her after a fight claims to have regret the decision.
“I just don’t think that it’s worth it after the fight is over…I wish they would consider all consequences involved… You just never know what can happen in a fight,” Edwards said. “People think that it’s one of those things where there’s only bumps or bruises, [but] there could be the element of ‘I hit this person in the head and they passed out and never got back up.’ If you lose and all of the bystanders have now videotaped this fight and it’s on YouTube and everyone gets to see how you lost and it’s embarrassing and … other people are teasing you about it. There’s so many elements that come into play about why you should not put yourself in that situation to begin with.”
Green believes his experience has changed him for the better.  While he upholds his decision to stand up for himself and had fought on other occasions before this last incident, he believes that it is better to ignore what people say about him and keep to himself.
“I’ve been in other fights before but nothing as big. I did care [about getting in trouble] but at the same time I didn’t,” Green said, “I don’t regret the accident. I regret hitting the teacher.  If that didn’t happen I probably wouldn’t be who I am today and if that accident didn’t happen I would probably still be hanging with the wrong crowd and getting into trouble, but I haven’t gotten into trouble. ”
While Green said before his incident winning a fight brought him satisfaction, he’s learned that fighting is not an appropriate way to handle a situation, that he believes the concept of winning or losing a fight is irrelevant.
“Basically I don’t even know why people say [whether you win or lose a fight] because at the same time if you did win you still lost,” Green said, “It doesn’t even matter who won or who lost because at the end both people are getting hurt.  Its just a pride thing.  I don’t believe in it.”
By Jacqueline LeBlanc