More than a year after her death, the bullies who drove Phoebe Prince to hang herself are being pleading guilty to their crimes. Two of the six defendents were sentenced today. Other plea deals are expected. Phoebe’s mother appeared in court today to approve the deals.
The plea deals required the teens to admit that their bullying and ethnic slurs were criminal acts, and to serve a year of probation.
They were charged with civil rights offenses due to the ethnic nature of the bullying, as well as criminal harrassment. A statutory rape charge against one student was dropped. Another young man will be tried for statutory rape in July.
These convictions are a huge win for the DA who decided to prosecute the teens, and they send a clear message to bullies: you will be held accountable.
As the New York Times says, Phoebe Prince’s case first drew widespread attention because of the unusually harsh penalties sought against the students who had bullied her. The felony and civil rights charges have been dropped in these plea deals, and no prison time is likely for any of the teens involved.
It’s still a stern punishment. Harsher than some thought they deserved. After Phoebe’s death, the town she lived in was divided between those who sympathized with the young woman and her family, and those who supported the school and community and felt the bullies were basically good kids who’d gotten carried away.
Since Phoebe’s suicide, of course, there has been a host of bullying-related teen suicides all over the country, many of them by gay teens. We’ve seen the launch of the It Gets Better project in an attempt to counteract the toxic effect of bullying and give kids hope. Other bullies have been charged with crimes after a suicide. It’s becoming clearer and clearer how dangerous and widespread a problem bullying really is.
In light of the past year’s events, the Massachusetts D.A. seems to have been spot on bringing these heavy charges against the bullies involved. It’s hard to imagine arguing that kids are just kids, or that this should have been handled by the schools, the way people did at the time. Our image of bullying has changed.
I think that’s a good thing. Yes, these young people were made an example of. I hope it’s an example that will be repeated everywhere a child dies because he or she couldn’t live with the cruelty of her peers. Bullying does real harm, and we need schools, parents and the law to work together to stop it.
What do you think? Were these teens treated too harshly? Is Phoebe’s family finally seeing justice done? Or should the D.A. have pressed ahead with the harsher charges and sought prison time in this case?