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Editor's column: Teen swarming should be a call to action

Richmond News editor Eve Edmonds asks how you would feel if it was your 14-year-old
teen swarming Richmond
Police were called to this Richmond park on Aug. 18 after a large group of youths allegedly swarmed a 14-year-old girl

So, it’s back to school. I can’t say it’s the end of summer because I live with a weather geek who would challenge me on that.

“It’s 25 degrees Celsius! How can you say it’s the end of summer? It’s not the end of summer. You can’t say it’s the end of summer. It’s certainly not the end of astronomical summer (although, he concedes, meteorological summer ended Aug. 31).”

Then I’m bombarded with weather stats — and trick questions.

“Guess what our rainfall was in the last 60 days at YVR?”

It’s cruel. He knows I don’t do numbers, let alone rainfall measurements.

BTW, for other weather nerds out there, the answer, which he’s only too happy to provide, is 13 mm (the average is 73 mm)

Hence, we’re sticking with “back to school.”

But whatever we call it, this can be a nervy time of year. There are the keener kids who just can’t wait to hit the books (at least I’ve heard about them) but many others have a knot in their stomach.

I know the vast majority of teachers do what they can to create a warm and welcoming environment. But I also know that school remains torture for some.  Right now, my thoughts go to one teen in particular.

Last week we ran a disturbing story about a 14-year-old girl allegedly lured to Garden City Park on the pretext of meeting a so-called friend. It appears to have been a set-up.

What she met when she got to that secluded area at night was, to quote our reporter, “a baying mob” apparently out for blood. I’m sickened to think of how that excited anticipation of meeting a friend must have quickly turned to terror and humiliation.

Thankfully, there were people in the vicinity who heard her terrified screams and came to her aid. But even while good Samaritans formed a human shield to protect the girl, some in the swarm of teens tried to punch and pull her hair, according to police.

Shortly after reporting on that disturbing incident, we were sent a video of what appeared to be another teen swarming. The sender thought it was also in Richmond, but police have confirmed it happened elsewhere. Still...

And then there was the particularly ugly video of a teen swarming in Surrey last May. In that sad scenario, no good Samaritans came to help. (BTW, I hope our Garden City heroes get some kind of medal.)

That said, I know these incidents are relatively rare and involve a tiny fraction of kids. Of the approximately 10,000 secondary students in Richmond, maybe a dozen were involved in this Garden City incident. But even if only a handful were directly involved, a huge number of kids starting school this week have heard about it, which in itself is chilling.

So how do we move forward? How, exactly, are students in general, and this 14-year-old victim in particular, supposed to go back to the classroom with a sense of confidence?  Is she going to the same school as some of her tormentors? Will they be in some of the same classes?

School officials can’t speak to the specifics publicly — fair enough. But I certainly hope they’re talking among themselves, and I trust they are because they already know they have much to talk about.

Last spring we published a story about an independent audit that looked at Richmond School District’s diversity and inclusion.

The findings were sobering. A concerning number of students “reported feeling marginalized, unsafe, unheard, and discriminated against,” states the report.

I commend the board for inviting this kind of hard look at itself — the first step in any kind of recovery program.

The next step is resources. In response to concerns about balancing budgets or staff shortages, just imagine she’s your 14-year-old, because in a way she is. She’s all of ours — so are her perpetrators.

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