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Carson moves to criminalize bullying for children as young as 5

By Sandy Mazza, Daily Breeze  05/08/14

Carson is moving to become the first California city to criminalize bullying, paving the way for misdemeanor charges to be filed against children as young as 5 years old.

If the City Council puts its final stamp of approval on the plan May 20, the new law would take effect June 19. On Tuesday, all five council members voted tentatively to push through the change in the city’s Municipal Code.

“This is a very serious issue that we face not only in the state of California but throughout the United States,” said Councilman Mike Gipson, who introduced the ordinance and is spearheading a campaign to make Carson “bully-free.”

“A few months ago in Compton, we had a young man who was bullied from middle school to high school,” Gipson said. “That young man, in high school at a parent-teacher conference, stayed in the restroom while his parents waited for him in the car. His mother went to find him in the restroom, and found that he’d taken a gun and committed suicide because he was bullied in school.”

In addition to murders and suicides that have been at least partially caused by bullying, the Centers for Disease Control reports that bullying can result in physical injury, social and emotional distress, increased depression, anxiety, problems at school and trouble sleeping. In a 2011 nationwide CDC study, 20 percent of high school students reported they were bullied at school the year before.

To combat the problem, the center recommends educational programs and other prevention strategies.

But Carson officials want to make it clear to bullies that the behavior — whether it’s physical, sexual, online or verbal in nature — won’t be tolerated, no matter the age.

The ordinance would target anyone from the ages of 5 to 18 who makes another person feel “terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested (in a way that) serves no legitimate purpose.” First-time offenders could be ticketed for an infraction and fined $100. For a second offense, another infraction ticket would be issued but with a $200 fine. Third-time offenders could face a criminal misdemeanor charge. Adults who bully would be charged with either an infraction or a misdemeanor, which could come with jail time.

“I know that people don’t want to hear the word misdemeanor, and I also know that something needs to happen relating to kids preying on other children,” said Gipson, who is running for a state Assembly seat in the June primary election. “That’s not right. If a child is bullying someone and a parent has to pay a $100 fine as a result of that, a responsible parent will realize their child needs some help.”

This isn’t the first time Carson has tried to combat social problems in the city by toughening its Municipal Code penalties. In July 2010, the City Council declared the city “drug-free” and erected signs around town with that message. Under the code changes, drug violators can be charged with both a felony and misdemeanor for the same crime, which could theoretically extend their fines and sentences.

ouncilwoman Lula Davis-Holmes supported the anti-bullying ordinance after the council agreed to reduce the severity of the penalty to an infraction for the first and second violations by children.

“I’m a mother, and I think I’m in favor of this but I would not want to go to court for a 5- or 10-year-old and say: ‘You’re charged with a misdemeanor,’ ” Davis-Holmes said. “We’re creating another problem here by saying it’s a misdemeanor. Then we’re saying it’s at the discretion of an enforcing officer (to charge the child criminally), but he might be wearing a (white extremist) hood. I want to pass it, but I don’t want to put this label on young people.”

It’s not clear how the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department would enforce the law, since infractions and misdemeanors are rarely doled out unless the crime is witnessed by a law enforcement officer, officials said.

“When you talk about who can commit a crime, there’s three basic categories of people who cannot commit crimes: lunatics and idiots, children of a certain age and elderly,” said Carson sheriff’s Lt. Arthur Escamillas. “A fitness hearing would be required to try a child as a criminal. But if you see a 4-year-old riding a bike down the street without a helmet, are you going to give a 4-year-old a ticket? It’s discretionary.”

Whether officers cite and charge children with misdemeanors for bullying will have to be decided by the Sheriff’s Department leadership, Escamillas said.

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