About the authors: Julianne is a senior at Elk Grove High School and Erik Martinez and Salomon Navarro are senior and sophomore students, respectively, at Curie High School. All students are reporters for The Mash, a weekly teen publication distributed to Chicagoland high schools.
Friends posting videos and sharing information online is now considered the norm, but the line between what is and isn’t appropriate to share isn’t always clear. While the YouTube generation has reaped the benefits of social networking, it has also shown a taste for violence in its social media, some teens and psychology experts say.
A video of a 17-year-old Curie senior that showed him being kicked and punched repeatedly in a Bridgeport alley near James Ward Elementary School on Jan. 15 went viral and, within days of the assault, led to the arrest of seven Chicago-area teenagers, some turned in by their parents. An eighth teen, the brother of one of the previous suspects, was arrested on Monday.
The video showed six boys attacking the victim as he pleads for them to stop. The group also stole his wallet with $180 and his Nike shoes, according to prosecutors.
Melissa Quintana, a sophomore at Kelly, said she was shocked to see the video.
“(The victim) was so defenseless,” she said. “This shouldn’t even be considered a fight; it was an attack.”
The two brothers who have been arrested currently reside in Arlington Heights, but are former residents of Armour Square, near where the attack took place. The other suspects live in Chicago.
Two 16-year old boys, three 15-year old boys and a 15-year old girl—who lured the victim into the alley and who, police say, recorded the video—were cited with juvenile delinquency petitions and charged with robbery and aggravated battery.
On Tuesday, Judge Terrence Sharkey ordered them to be confined at home on electronic monitors. The teens also won’t be allowed to use cellphones or leave home, except to attend school, but one of the attorneys representing the teens told the Chicago Tribune that all of them had been suspended for 10 days. They also could be expelled from Chicago Public Schools.
Raymond Palomino, 17, is the only suspect being charged as an adult. A judge set bond at $100,000 on Jan. 18. Palomino was turned in by his father, Michael, a Cook County sheriff’s deputy, after comments online identified him by name. A Cook County judge refused to lower Raymond Palomino’s bond, and he was being held in protective custody as of press time on Tuesday.
After the video was posted on YouTube, it instantly grew into an Internet sensation, garnering sparks of controversy and a public outcry of disbelief.
Curie senior Martha Razo had one question: “How could people do that?”
Dr. Steven Meyers, a clinical psychologist and professor at Roosevelt University, said this type of violence usually occurs because of a related event: A simple glare or provocative look can be taken as an insult. “Often times, the response doesn’t seem proportional to the initial incident,” he said. “For example, some perpetrators responding to a verbal insult with physical aggression.”
It doesn’t help that some teens today have a mob mentality, Meyers said. “In some incidents in CPS, it’s been seen where kids start to pile on each other—where a fight involving two kids expands rapidly and involves many,” he said.
While many are shocked, sadly, some Chicago-area students feel that this type of violence is not that uncommon.
“After hearing about the incident, I was shocked that people would actually do that to someone,” said Damian Gonzalez, a senior at George Washington. “I mean it’s normal I guess for people to fight, but that fight could’ve sent him to the morgue. Nobody knows how to fight fair anymore.”
A similar video that went viral was the fatal beating of 16-year-old Fenger student Derrion Albert in 2009. Last fall, another Chicago teen was arrested for aggravated battery after a video of him punching a 56-year-old homeless man surfaced on YouTube.
Posting videos like these show a lot of immaturity, said Elayne Rapping, a pop culture expert and professor emeritus of American Studies at The State University of New York at Buffalo. “These types of videos get popular because it’s a way to show masculinity and that you’re tough, especially among teenage boys.”
Rapping blames technology too. “There has probably been bullying since the beginning of time, but with all the new media ... in the last 10 years, it has become much more visible,” she said. “Anything can get on to the Internet and anyone can see it.”
In 2008, YouTube added a reporting feature specifically to address youth violence on the site. They count on users to bring these kinds of videos to their attention by flagging them as “Violent or Repulsive Content” in a pull-down menu on the website.
According to YouTube, each time a video is flagged, it triggers a review from an employee. YouTube has people reviewing videos 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If a flagged video has news value, according to their community guidelines, YouTube sometimes adds a warning screen and an age-restriction barrier to protect underage users from viewing the content.
Because of the rising visibility of teen violence on YouTube and in the media, some students feel like beating violence is considered normal around Chicago.
Curie sophomore Sylvia Swiercz said, “Curie students feel really bad about the situation, yet some of them are starting to engage in violence. People are trying to form gangs and clans so that they could find the (boys) from the video and beat them up the same way they beat up the original victim, but they don’t realize that they are just repeating the same vicious cycle.”
Tio Hardiman, director for CeaseFire Illinois, whose mission is to reduce youth violence in Chicago, said this kind of violence is not just apparent on the South Side. It’s everywhere, he said.
“Violence is the norm in America,” Hardiman said. “Young people are taught that violence is OK, and we are here to intervene and teach people that this is not right.”
At a Jan. 18 news conference, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy called incidents such as the video beating a “national epidemic.”
“The outrage that everybody has showed as a result of this can be the positive that comes out of it,” McCarthy said. “And the message is really simple: This (won’t) ... be tolerated and we’ll do everything we can, whether it’s on video or whether it’s not on video, to apprehend people who engage in this type of behavior. And honestly, this is very clearly mob-type behavior.”
But despite some reassurance, many students, such as Steinmetz senior Lizbeth Gomez, still fear for their safety at school. “I’m worried about my safety because people could hurt you for no practical reason,” she said.
Sofia Villafuerte, a counselor at Curie, feels the media attention given to the beating has been harmful. “I think the [victim’s] family needs closure right now,” she said. “I don’t think all this attention is constructive. For the students, it gets them feeling too involved. It’s like being in a small town and all of a sudden something bad happens.”
For some, the event has inspired them to take action. Francis W. Parker junior Jade Giordani, who said she went to elementary school with the victim, created a Facebook event called Rise.Against.Violence where she asked members to wear purple on Jan. 23 to take a stand against violence and to honor those who have been bullied.
“I got fed up with seeing videos of this on the news and I felt like something needed to be done,” Giordani said.
Similarly, Timothy Hwang of the National Youth Association has launched an anti-bullying campaign on change.org in response to the video.
But Hardiman said teenagers should watch out for each other. “Young people need to challenge their peers and say, ‘Look this isn’t right and we’re not about to do this.’ It has to come from their peers.”
Contributors: Matt Suppelsa of Evanston, Branden Tatum of Morgan Park and Sara Angel of Whitney Young
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