With any major event that spawns a sensational story, there typically is an early, explosive period in which rumor, gossip, speculation and outright fabrication fill the vacuum of information.
Then, as the story matures, a significant amount of energy has to be expended in efforts to tamp the genie of misinformation back into the bottle.
We’re right in the middle of the phenomena with this Charlie Rape Gang thing. As a result, I found it enlightening to hear one of the people close to the case point out the obvious: The Charlie Rape Gang isn’t a gang. And no one was raped.
Yet in large part because of that stupidly inflammatory name dreamed up by a punk-pod of juveniles, the hysteria went off the charts.
Now, I agree with probably everybody: The five kids involved are world-class jackasses. The appropriate punishment for each of them is to have his butt whipped, but good.
And then, they should get the treatment a friend of mine dictated for his teen son when he found him dabbling in pot: Your world, as you know it, is over.
No privileges. No phone. No television. No computer. Just school, homework, sleep, repeat, with any previously free time spent in household chores of the cleaning-the-baseboards-with-a-toothbrush variety.
And, naturally, the parents of the kids who were victims of these jerks have a right to be angry. But we do not live in a society that allows the victims to dictate punishment. Such a society does exist in the world, but thankfully Americans don’t live under Sharia law.
In this case, the vacuum-filling hysteria has included calls for all five of these boys to be permanently expelled from school, punishment typically reserved for bringing a deadly weapon on campus, and for them similarly to be charged with felonies. In parallel, they call for firing the school’s principal, mostly because she runs a school where, to hear some people tell it, there was a gang. Of rapists.
But a voice of reason is the best defense for hysteria, and in this case that voice also has the force of law. It’s Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan.
Not exactly known for being a softie, Flanagan defends Principal Felicia Turner for acting based on the information she had at the time. As he points out, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office put three people on the case (three! No wonder we’re relying on gun-toting residents to scare off burglars!), and all they could squeeze out of it are charges of simple battery – a relatively minor misdemeanor that you could earn with an unwelcome shove.
The boys’ hearing this past week was just to establish those charges. All five of them still face their day in court, and they likely also can expect further school disciplinary action now that more information is available (including from victims who reported to the police, but not the school).
And to me, just as importantly, both Flanagan and Columbia County Sheriff’s Capt. Steven Morris say the ongoing investigation should determine if there is any validity to the suspicion that one or more members of the “gang” was, himself, a past victim of far more serious abuse, of the felony variety.
Meanwhile, as the smoke dissipates and we see that the fire isn’t as big as some tried to whip up with copious amounts of hot air, a positive outcome will be a renewed sense from everyone that bullying behavior, particularly in the awkward middle school years, cannot and will not be tolerated.
Anyone not buying in had better pack up now.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/