MONTREAL – Marshall Brooks’s cheekbone was broken in two places and his eye socket shattered when one of his classmates gave him a vicious beating last week just outside their Westwood Senior High School yard.
But what was most horrifying to the seasoned police officers and school principal who viewed video footage of the attack in Hudson is that not one of the 50 or so students looking on tried to stop the beating or bothered to call 911.
Instead, they captured the action on their cellphones, eager to upload the drama to the Web. Only after the damage was done did someone step in.
“I saw the video and can’t believe no one intervened, or called police or even tried to help the young man,” Sûreté du Québec spokesperson Sgt. Bruno Beaulieu said.
“It was an unfair fight, like between David and Goliath, with the attacker at least twice the size of the victim.”
A 17-year-old Westwood student, whose name cannot be published because he’s a minor, was charged with assault causing bodily harm. He was released to his parents on a promise to appear in court.
He’s not allowed on school property for the rest of the academic year.
Brooks, 17, is recuperating at his Rigaud home after having reconstructive surgery at Montreal General Hospital. Doctors feared he might lose the sight in his left eye, but, fortunately, it has returned – albeit a bit blurry.
“The kids didn’t seem to get that what they were watching was something dangerous,” said Brooks’s mother, Tina.
“Some were his friends and didn’t or couldn’t do anything, and instead of calling 911, they were creating something cool and funky for Facebook.”
Brooks said he remembers being put in a headlock, pulled to the ground and punched repeatedly. But he said the fact that no one came to his rescue – and worse, recorded his suffering – doesn’t surprise him.
“It’s high school tradition to record everything and every fight,” he said.
“And compared to what you can find on TV or the Internet, a fight is nothing.”
The video of the beating has since been taken down from YouTube.
Such blasé acceptance of violence among youth, who are infatuated with uploading their lives to the Internet, has educators and police wondering how to teach this plugged-in generation responsible “digital citizenship.”
“The logistics of trying to police every single phone in the school is impossible,” principal Sheila Honeyborne said, adding that 80 to 90 per cent of the student population at Westwood Senior High in Hudson has a cellphone or smartphone. “They’re here and aren’t going away.
“So we try to teach them responsibility and ethics. Unfortunately, this (incident) wasn’t ethically correct. It was really tragic and unfortunate.”
Beaulieu said police are there to enforce the law, but it’s up to parents and educators to teach morals.
Not only did the attack on Brooks not trigger the Good Samaritan gene in any of the onlookers, the beating also seems to have been planned. Invitations to view the attack went out on Twitter and Facebook well ahead of time, Beaulieu said. About 10 per cent of the Westwood’s student population, or 50 kids, turned out for the beating.
Judging from the video, Honeyborne said, it appeared the fight was organized but Brooks was caught unawares. The students also seemed to be desensitized to the sheer viciousness of the blows to Brooks, Honeyborne said.
“One thing I noticed from the video (of the attack) is the students aren’t watching the fight in real time, they’re watching it on the screen, so that sense of urgency or justice is dampened,” she said. “It’s really quite remarkable.”
The Lester B. Pearson School Board, to which Westwood belongs, has recently introduced a “digital citizenship program” into its curriculum. The program, detailed on the board’s website, compares the Internet to the Wild West, where some people chose to do as they please without regard for their fellow citizens.
The program provides information to parents and teachers, covering such topics as etiquette and rights and responsibilities when it comes to using technology.
In the wake of the attack on Brooks, Honeyborne’s school has invited a group from the local YMCA to speak to students about bullying and appropriate behaviour for bystanders. Honeyborne spoke to the students after the attack and some admitted they should have done something.
“Some did step in, but it was too late,” she said. “We need to talk about what it is to be a citizen with morals, ethics and principles.”
She also hopes to hold a session in mid-May to urge parents to speak to their children about using their digital devices responsibly – not an easy task for parents who may not be as well-versed in technology as their kids.
“We have to have frank discussions with them that just because they have iPhones that can do practically anything, with that comes responsibility,” Honeyborne said. “It’s a very difficult conversation to have ... when they’re much more fluent in the language of these devices than we are.”
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