April 12, 2010
Posted: 09:00 PM ET
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Adolescence, that swampy zone between safety and power, is best patrolled by adults armed with sense and mercy, not guns and a badge. That's one of many reasons the awful story of Phoebe Prince leaves me so uneasy.
The tragedy is now a global parable: a cute Irish girl moves to a new town — South Hadley, Mass. — and starts dating a popular football player. Other girls, alpha girls, get jealous. They taunt her, cross out her picture on a student-body poster, fling abuse on Facebook. It goes on for months; her mother tries to get the school to do something. Finally, on Jan. 14, after a day when she was allegedly harassed in the library, in the hallways and on her way home from school — a canned drink thrown at her, and the words "You Irish slut, you Irish whore" — Phoebe Prince went home, picked out a scarf her sister had given her for Christmas and hanged herself in a stairwell. Her sister found her. The mean girls? They logged on and mocked her death.
These dismal stories have grown familiar, but it is what happened next that tangles our instincts. When district attorney Elizabeth Scheibel charged nine students in connection with Phoebe's suicide, she forced us to explore the line between the cruel and the criminal.
Scheibel had to be creative to find charges that fit. Seven girls were charged variously with stalking and criminal harassment, civil rights violations and assault by means of a dangerous weapon (the drink). Two boys were charged with statutory rape (sex, even consensual, with someone under 16). The town now turns on itself: Is this who we are? Who is to blame? The alleged accessories to the crime range from the teachers who overheard the abuse and did nothing, to the adults who appear just as cowed by the powerful kids as their peers are, to the technologies that give new meaning to mean.
Filed under: Larry King Live
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