Carson Ordinance Criminalizing Bullying Fails to Win Council Support

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 5, 2014

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The Carson, CA city council voted down a proposed ordinance that would have had bullies turning over their lunch money—in the form of fines.

Proposed Anti-Bullying Ordinance

No BullyingIn a 3-2 vote on May 21, the council killed legislation that would have criminalized bullying. Carson would have been the first city in California to pass such a law. Council member Mike Gipson authored the bill that would have outlawed behavior designed to make another person between the ages of 5 and 25 feel “terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested” for no legitimate reason. The council instead adopted an ordinance supporting a citywide anti-bullying campaign.

Ordinance Too Vague, Possibly Ineffective

Opponents of the proposed ordinance, while firmly supporting less drastic anti-bullying measures, were concerned that the law as proposed would be ineffective and unfairly stigmatize children convicted of bullying offenses—a result that many see as counterproductive. The proposed ordinance concerned officials who believed that the wide swath of ages (5-25) and the rather vague language and enforcement guidelines could cause more problems than it solved.

The ordinance was given support by several local youth organizations as well as children that had been bullied in the past. The Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, who came out in opposition of the law, tempered supporters’ efforts. The ACLU questioned the proposed ordinances efficacy and stigmatizing effects.

Councilman Al Robles, along with council members Lula Davis-Holmes and Elito Santarina issued a statement justifying their votes against the ordinance, stating “[w]e all recognize it [bullying] as something that should not be tolerated. It’s not the intent of this ordinance to be punitive or stigmatize children, but the fact of the matter is that’s exactly what it would do.”

California’s Anti-Bullying Laws

California has enacted anti-bullying laws through the California Education Code, but the law has stopped short of criminalizing behavior. The education code also includes provisions to deal with the issues surrounding cyber-bullying, or bullying that occurs online. All council members conceded that bullying is a problem, and one that must be dealt with as a community. A lack of support for the ordinance should not be construed as a lack of support for reform.

Gipson, who was the lone nay vote on the implementation of an anti-bullying awareness program, believes his proposed ordinance was the corrective measure needed. Citing alarming statistics on the numbers of bullies—and bullied—in American schools, Gipson stated that the old adage “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me—that was a lie.”

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