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Editor's column: Toxic posts in the name of justice don’t fly

Richmond News editor Eve Edmonds has some cautionary words for the keyboard vigilante crowd
Janice Xie, 14, was badly beaten up by an older male student inside Hugh Boyd Secondary on Thursday

It’s a truly disturbing story: A 14-year-old girl is beaten unconscious inside a school by a 17-year-old male student.

I’d like to say this happened in some crazy American town, but I can’t. This horrific event happened in front of the main office of Richmond’s Hugh Boyd secondary. (See full story here)

By the way, I say “crazy American town,” knowing full well we have our own share of youth violence. The day we published the Richmond story, seven students from an Edmonton school were charged with second-degree murder in the death of another student.

But back to Richmond, the incident happened Thursday over lunch. Friday morning an understandably enraged father notified us and sent us pictures of his badly beaten daughter lying in a hospital bed.

We published the story a couple of hours later — although it was already blowing up on social media.

Richmond RCMP has since said it’s working with the school district “to ensure the safety and well-being of all those affected.”

Meanwhile, school authorities have released statements about creating a safe and inclusive school community.

You can read the whole story inside, but the question now is where do we go from here? How do we truly create safer, more caring and inclusive schools?

Along with being beaten, the girl has said her attacker uttered racist and homophobic comments. If that’s the case, it adds yet another element to the whole ugly mess.

I don’t envy the Richmond school district or Boyd’s administration right now. They have a big job in front of them in explaining how this could have happened and reassuring parents and students that, in fact, the school is safe and inclusive.

I’m not sure how they plan to do that, but my unsolicited advice is that they, not only get all over this, but let us know they’re all over it. Carefully scripted emailed statements alone aren’t going to do it.

I don’t doubt this is being taken seriously, but even those of us who don’t have kids at Boyd want to see evidence of that.

That said, the kind of evidence I’m looking for has nothing to do with how harshly the alleged attacker is going to be dealt with — in fact, quite the opposite.

...which brings me to comments on social media.

Facebook comments out of line

While most comments on our Facebook post about the story have been expressions of sadness and support for the victim, we’ve also seen plenty of the old string-him-up comments.

I get the anger and outrage, but the name-and-shame vigilante attitude is disturbing. I’m particularly sick of the “give him a little jailhouse justice” comment.

What’s also worrying is the fact some are taking us to task for using the world “allegedly.” They seem to think it would be a good idea to just hop over the whole due process nonsense and get straight to punishment — and the more severe the better.

'Allegedly' is there for a reason

When we write allegedly, we’re not saying the incident didn’t happen. We’re saying we didn’t see it first-hand and there may be factors we’re not aware of. Maybe there aren’t, but the point is we just don’t know. The point may best hit home if we all took a minute to imagine what it would be like if it was our kid who was accused of a violent assault.

This is not about foregoing consequences for outrageous behavior. However, it is about checking the kind of vile attitude some think they’re entitled to in the name of justice and inclusion.

It’s about living our beliefs and “being” the inclusion and anti-hate we claim to want. It’s not about having a kid drawn and quartered in the town square.

If we’re going to talk about inclusion and anti-hate, we need to think about what that actually looks like, particularly when kids truly test the limits.

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