Following the tragic suicide of Staten Island 15-year-old Amanda Cummings last week, a local lawmaker has introduced a bill that would create harsher penalties for cyberbullies.
"Tragically, we're seeing modern technology used as a weapon and our laws have not kept pace with that technology," Senator Jeffrey D. Klein (D- Bronx/Westchester) said in a statement. "This legislation will give prosecutors the tools they need to treat cyberbullying as the crime it is and also send a message that this type of reckless and potentially deadly behavior will not be tolerated."
Klein's bill essentially updates old stalking and harassment laws to include cyberbullying. It would:
Update the crime of Third Degree Stalking to include bullying of a youth by electronic communications.
Add electronic communications to the means of which to commit the crime of Aggravated Harassment.
Modernize the crime of First Degree Criminal Impersonation to include electronic communications.
Additionally, it would allow certain types of cyberbullying to be prosecuted as hate crimes.
Currently, Aggravated Harassment and Third Degree Stalking are Class A misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail.
According to The National Crime Prevention Council, 43 percent of teens are subject to some form of cyberbullying. That number rises to 53 percent for LGBT youth.
"This is a new world where bullying, once confined to the school yard, now follows its victims wherever the Internet goes," said Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island/ Brooklyn), a member of the Independent Democratic Conference with Klein. "Before there is another tragedy, we need to treat cyberbullying as the crime that it is."
The bill will be carried in the New York State Assembly by Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-Jamaica).
Amanda Cummings died after she threw herself in front of a bus two days after Christmas while carrying a suicide note. A relative told The Staten Island Advance that Amanda's peers tormented her, stealing her possessions including her jacket, phone, and shoes. While she was in the hospital, bullies continued to post cruel, inappropriate comments on Amanda's Facebook wall.
Amanda's mother, Cece Weber, left an emotional message on her deceased daugher's Facebook wall:
This is to all you evil son of a bitches that picked on, talked about and threatened my baby. I HOPE YOU DIE and I HOPE YOU SUFFER.