Casey Heynes is not a hero…
He doesn’t think so either. He wishes the whole thing never happened. “Asked if he was a superhero, he laughed and said: ‘No I wish I was.'” (Rosie Squires, TheTelegraph.com.au- read full article here.)
First, let’s take a breath and get some perspective on this specific incident.
This event is the latest example of the all too typical schoolyard bullying incident that involves a smaller kid, in this case Ritchard Gale, trying to impress some of his friends by picking on a bigger, more docile student- Casey Heynes. A group of Ritchard’s friends egged him on- again all too typical. These guys had been picking on Casey relentlessly for quite some time.
As the video shows, Casey had enough, power-slammed Ritchard to the ground…and walked away.
Now Casey is the poster child for every kid that ever wanted to fight back against the bully, and Ritchard is a villain of epic proportions; he’s arguably becoming the object of more hatred on social network streams than actual criminals.
If we were not obsessed with viral social media this would have been a typical schoolyard fight- end of story. Instead we’ve got a global social media phenomenon that not only blows this specific incident well out of proportion, but actually threatens the safety and well-being of both boys.
Did the bully, Ritchard Gale, get what he deserved? Arguably yes- even his mother, Tina agrees. Despite erroneous postings that she was demanding that Casey apologize to her son, her perspective is that Ritchard got his just deserts and although misquoted, what Tina Gale actually said was that her son owed Casey an apology. Now that the pitchforks and torches are out, she is justifiably worried about her son’s safety.
Casey’s father is also worried about his son’s safety, particularly in light of his sudden celebrity. According to TheTelegraph.com.au, Casey’s father says, “There’ll be reprisals from other kids in the school and he still has to go to school somewhere,” he said. “He’s not a violent kid, it’s the first time he’s lashed out and I don’t want him to be victimised over that. He adds, “He’s always been taught never to hit. Apparently other people’s parents don’t teach their kids that.”
I want to be clear- I can’t find any reason to find fault with what this young man did. He was bullied for several years, often picked on for his size. He was apparently not socially adept and it seems that his school has a history of bullying and violent outbreaks- so much for the efficacy of their “zero tolerance” policy. Again from The Telegram:
“Students said violence was a daily occurrence with fights often filmed and posted online.
“’The fights I have seen here, it’s horrible. It really makes me feel unsafe,’ one said. A classmate added: ‘People pick on him (Casey) every single day, they hit him around and stuff, and he just got sick of it and let out the anger.’” (Read the full story here.)
You may say that violence simply causes more violence. That is certainly the contention of many child development experts and school administrators. My contention is that while a last resort, a physical response to an attack of this kind is warranted and in this case was justified.
I also credit Casey with remarkable restraint. That opinion may rankle some of the pacifists out there, but after he dispatched the threat, Casey did exactly the right thing- he walked away. Had he been acting out of pure rage as so many have opined, he likely would have continued to beat his assailant to a pulp once he had the advantage. Watch the video; even as some of Ritchard’s friends were obviously confronting Casey- perhaps to retaliate; Casey simply turns and leaves.
Violence is not the solution to the bullying issue- but it is sometimes the appropriate response in a specific incident. In this case, what would have been the alternative?
Some say Casey should have reported Ritchard and his friends to a teacher. Well- Casey had been there and done that. The school obviously wouldn’t- or couldn’t resolve the situation. At any rate, when, exactly would he have had the opportunity to make his report? Ritchard had at least two accomplices, not counting the kid shooting the video- and it’s not likely that kid’s intentions were admirable. The only time one of the little heroes stepped in was when one of Ritchard’s friends stepped in front of Casey after the throw and at that point, in my expert tactical opinion, it looked as if said friend was more than willing to continue the attack on Casey- not make the peace.
Casey may have had the opportunity to report the incident after the fight, but in the moment his job was to keep himself safe, not worry about disobeying politically correct school policy.
Others say that Casey had other, less violent physical alternatives and say his response was out of proportion to the threat he faced. While rare, a single punch can cause severe injury and even death. By my count, Casey took 5 punches before he struck back. His response was one instinctive move. Reports indicate this is likely the first time Casey had ever been in a fight. His response was intuitive and appropriate.
Could Ritchard also have been severely injured?
Of course- but the fact is that he wasn’t. He got off cheap. Even if he had been injured, who was the perpetrator of the violence here?
Casey was not violent. He was invited to this party against his will. It was the other kids that violated him- all of them. Ritchard was the most obvious perpetrator, but his friends are equally culpable. Instead of stepping in, they encouraged the attack and likely put him up to it in the first place.
The two girls that witnessed the start of the altercation were also responsible as “passive by-standers,” a growing problem in violent situations at school, work and in society at large. They walked away- they should have been running to get help. It’s obvious from their demeanor that they just didn’t want to get involved.
The one real hero in the whole scenario is the girl that steps up at the end of the video. She sees the fight from a distance; instead of walking away she walks into the fray and in the end gets between Casey and the one of the other bullies to prevent any further damage.
So- is Casey a hero? Well, it depends on what happens next. Early reports indicate that Casey is a nice young man who regrets that he hurt someone. He reportedly has said that the real revenge against the bully is to do well in school and someday become his boss! That’s impressive.
Given the situation, Casey did the right thing. I can find absolutely no fault with what he did and I’m thankful that the outcome wasn’t worse physically for either boy. Now my concern is that we don’t allow hysteria to destroy what can be a powerful opportunity to address this issue and create meaningful change.
Bullying is not prevented by punishing the target who strikes back. Zero-tolerance is ineffective when its application simply means both parties are always equally responsible for the altercation.
As intensely invested as I am in this cause- I do not believe we can end bullying. There are new bullies created every minute.
We cannot stop bullying, but we can stop the bully- one at a time. Maybe that’s the real value of what Casey did. Now let’s put down the pitchforks and work to re-indoctrinate our society with the values of respect, etiquette and decency that can prevent more of these incidents. Let’s stop being passive bystanders. Let’s restore the confidence and courage to stand up for one another.
The pitchfork and torch brigade is not going to help us stop bullying. In the end here we’ve got two kids caught up in one hell of a mess. I hope both kids can move beyond this and become symbols of reconciliation and forgiveness- that would be a true demonstration of strength.
In the end, both Casey and Ritchard can become heroes.