by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Sometimes the world just doesn't seem to make much sense. As a reporter for Gay media for over a decade I can honestly say that this is one of the most deplorable things I've ever had to let readers know about. Brace yourself because this one will impact you, I guarantee it.
On September 14, Eric Martin was bullied and beaten so severely by several of his classmates at Highland Springs High School in Henrico, Virginia, the attack left him unconscious and resulted in a nearly two-week hospital stay because he suffered a traumatic brain injury. Eric was also reportedly put on suicide watch while at the hospital.
Now, the school is pressing charges - against Eric.
Why? Because he fought back. He defended himself against bullies that had called him 'faggot' for years. As a result he is facing two charges of assault despite suffering a brain injury, multiple contusions, and a broken arm, while his assailants were essentially unharmed.
Police are charging Eric with two counts of assault because he supposedly threw the first punch and school officials refused to allow him back into school unless he signed a statement saying he threatened the school - a charge he denies, and a charge for which the school has no proof apparently.
If convicted, he could face jail time and fines.
Obviously, the emboldened teen's family hired a lawyer and they intend to fight the charges. A Virginia judge has set the trial date for November 21.
The school reportedly sent an email to parents saying the incident is being dealt with according to their established policies and procedures. In this case, it seems to be the zero tolerance policy, which means every student involved in the fight - which includes the victim as well - receives the same punishment.
'So in other words the four or five boys can beat my boy to death,' said Mary Martin, Eric's mother. 'And he gets one slap in and gets charged, too? That's plain ridiculous.'
'I'm not going to walk away from this,' said Martin. 'I want the school held accountable.'
Tammy Motola, Eric's family advocate, said that the teen has been 'verbally abused, harassed and bullied since the first grade in an obviously failing school system.'
She added, 'The kid is the poster child for 'brave.'
The teen, who is still recovering from the attack, appeared in court on October 15 even though he is still under doctor's care. Thankfully, his doctor says he seems to be making progress; however, the long-term effects of the injuries to his head and brain remain unclear.
'He and his family are taking things one day at a time, and are very grateful for all the cards and letters they have received from all over the world,' said Motola. 'These have indeed been a great source of inspiration and validation for Eric.'
The good news is that Eric is now attending a different high school. But even that was a challenge, says Motola. Amazingly, despite the attack, she says the boy was only able to switch schools after his family pressured the school system over the matter.
Motola, like I'm sure many of you reading this right now asks, 'Is it too much to ask that a school provide a safe and hostile-free environment for him? For any child? Is it too much to ask a school system to implement the very anti-bullying policies that have been put into place to protect him and keep him safe from poorly behaved, undisciplined and self-righteous students? Is it right for school administrations across this country to continue to turn a blind eye to what now has become a national epidemic, simply because it's easier just to brush it under the rug?'
'This must stop,' she said. 'Bullying kills our youth, and it almost killed 14-year-old Eric Martin. He is just one of thousands that are subjected to anti-Gay slurs, constant scrutiny and physical abuse daily in this country.'
As an anti-bullying advocate, Motola says she is driven and inspired by the hate at times. 'Nothing surprises me anymore,' she said. 'Nor am I intimidated by the chosen, sometimes elected leaders who walk around with blinders, suffering from selective hearing when it comes to their role and lack of accountability in what has now become the great bullying debate. It's not getting better, despite what the numbers say.'
According to Motola, the ugly truth of it all is that kids are just not speaking up anymore. 'After all,' she reasons, 'given the current tolerance for such otherwise intolerable behavior, why should they?'
Most of all, she says she is 'truly confused as to a school's definition of zero tolerance. I'm over their anti-bullying policies. What's the point in any policy if it's not mandated and enforced? I know, with absolute certainty that every kid deserves to walk into a school and receive an education without prejudice or persecution. For Eric Martin that day is long overdue.'
Seattle Gay News is happy to hear that Eric Martin and his family are fighting the charges and were vocal enough to get him enrolled in a different school. Virginia is a long way from Washington, D.C. in miles, but community is something that can't always be measured by geographical location. So SGN looked for ways people might be able to help out.
First, there is a GoFundMe account set up for Eric to assist with his legal costs. To donate to that fund go to www.gofundme.com/justiceforeri.
'Please help us raise the funding we need to cover his legal and medical expenses,' said Motola. 'We are asking that each person who reads his story donate $5.00 and share the link so we can bring more awareness to Eric's story that unfortunately thousands of kids are all too familiar with.'
In addition, Eric's family has started a campaign, Letters for Eric, to show the bullied teen support. The address is: Letters for Eric, P.O. Box 993, Sandston, VA 23150.
The community of Sandston in the eastern neck of Virginia's Henrico County is where Eric was due to begin the 9th grade this past September. According to Motola, Eric is the 'product of a stable, loving married couple who have been together for 34 years.' He has an identical twin brother, an older sister, and a best friend in his one-year-old Calico cat, Riley.
Despite being charged with assault, Motola says Eric is not the type of child that people would refer to as 'troubled' or even 'angry.' She describes him as 'a soft-spoken, creative, 'still waters run deep' personality.' She says he is an aspiring artist who loves to draw, and likewise has dreams of learning to play guitar and to eventually attend college.
The Martins have yet to receive the supposed 'investigative report' from the school resource officer (who is the same party who ultimately charged Eric with assault), which is unsettling to say the least. And, according to Motola, no more than a week after Eric's assault, another fight broke out in Highland Springs High School resulting in more students being rushed to the hospital with injuries.
The Virginia Anti-Violence Project (VAVP) issued a statement condemning the brutal assault on Eric Martin. The Virginia Anti-Violence Project works to address and end violence, with a specific focus on LGBTQ communities across Virginia. Currently, the organization is working on a project to expand sexual and domestic violence services to the LGBTQ community in the Richmond area.
VAVP has called on the Henrico County School System to assess its current implementation of its policies on bullying and 'take this opportunity to educate all teachers, staff, volunteers, administrators, and students about bullying and how to intervene in a situation that involves bullying.'
'I am very disturbed to learn about this violent situation in our community,' Ted Heck, VAVP Board President said. 'No child should have to endure harassment and assault in school for just being himself.'
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!