As IndyStar.com first reported last week (followed by The Huffington Post), teen Darnell “Dynasty” Young, a student at Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis, faces expulsion for firing a stun gun at bullies who threatened to attack him. Arsenal Tech is a public school where state and federal rights can benefit students. Yet Arsenal Tech is threatening to expel Darnell for defending himself by means of non-lethal force.
Many researchers and I have described in excruciating detail that “bullying” simply is not the same thing as being picked on. Getting picked on is something that many (most?) adolescents of whatever race, religion, sexual orientation, gender characteristics, and other aspects of identity must undergo.
Yet conversely and clinically, bullying is far more prolonged, and bullying can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic trauma, arousal, fear, shock, and guilt, which ultimately can lead to suicidal feelings.
A number of heightened sensitivities faced by a bully’s target resemble in certain aspects what researchers Mildred Pagelow and Lenore Walker recognized when discovering aspects of battered woman syndrome.
As I’ve indicated before, while I respect the thought behind the “It Gets Better” campaign, the resulting suicides of several youths who made “It Gets Better” videos demonstrates, to a certain extent, the ineffective nature of the campaign.
Since early 2011 I’ve been pushing more provocative responses. With the Trevon Martin case in the news recently, combined with these reports out of Indiana of potentially expelling a gay student for attempting to stand his ground, I figured I’d use my Huffington Post platform to start the “Stand Your Ground” campaign on behalf of queer youth.
As someone who spent a meaningful time living in Indiana, perhaps I ought to remind my Hoosier friends running public schools — and others around the country — of the law in this area. Doing so should demonstrate how Indiana’s own “Stand Your Ground” statute applies to Darnell’s situation at Arsenal Tech.
More importantly, perhaps, should Arsental Tech suspend or expel Darnell for defending himself, I want to explain how Arsenal Tech would be violating the law and, worse, sending a message to all queer kids across the nation that they simply have to subject themselves to the unrelenting, repetitive daily assaults that constitute bullying. And I will keep fighting to prevent that from happening so long as I’m a law professor.
First, Indiana Code Section 35-41-3-1grants Darnell a general right to stand his ground and use the stun gun that his mother gave him for self-defense, even if his use of the stun gun may otherwise violate the laws of the state. Specifically, that statute reads:
Sec. 1. A person is justified in engaging in conduct otherwise prohibited if he has legal authority to do so.
As added by Acts 1976, P.L.148, SEC.1. Amended by Acts 1977, P.L.340, SEC.7.
Second, Indiana Code Section 35-41-3-2 grants Darnell the right to use force to protect himself, regardless of whether he’s at school or what his age may be. Specifically, the statute reads:
Use of force to protect person or property
Sec. 2. (a) A person is justified in using reasonable force against another person to protect the person or a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person:
(1) is justified in using deadly force; and
(2) does not have a duty to retreat;
if the person reasonably believes that that force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to the person or a third person or the commission of a forcible felony. No person in this state shall be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever for protecting the person or a third person by reasonable means necessary
What does this legalese mean in plain English?
It means that Darnell can use force to protect himself, and so long as he reasonably believed a third party (bully) was going to imminently initiate the use of force against him, Darnell may use reasonable force to defend himself. Surely a non-lethal stun gun is reasonable force in such a situation. But the statute doesn’t stop there. Darnell can truly stand his ground. Not only did Darnell have no duty to retreat under Indiana law, but Darnell cannot be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever (i.e., expulsion from a government-run school) for protecting himself by reasonable means, even if he had used lethal force, which, thankfully, he did not use.
I don’t write the laws. I write about them, whether for The Huffington Post or in various academic journals on law and education and law and gender issues, and I go across the country speaking of them at Symposia. I write about the silliness of the laws (and of the academic journals themselves) as well as the stupidity of our politicians who pass laws that create the fodder for these writings to even take place.
But beyond legislative acts, the U.S. Supreme Court — in the past three years — decided two monumental cases involving self-defense and the right to respond with force. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the court, by a 5-4 majority opinion authored by Antonin Scalia, asserted that what “perfectly captured” the essence of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms was an 1846 Georgia Supreme Court case. The Supreme Court majority, in quoting that 1846 case, indicated that the Second Amendment protected “[t]he right of the whole people, old and young, men, women and boys, and not militia only, to keep and bear arms….”
Admittedly, the Heller majority indicated that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on … laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools.” But the Court indicated that such restrictions are only “presumptively lawful.” Presumptions always may be rebutted, even in matters involving police powers, minors bearing arms, and particularly when concerning a fundamental right. Moreover, Heller‘s presumption that regulation forbidding the carrying of firearms in schools is lawful faced the Court’s “strong presumption” two years later in McDonald v. City of Chicago stating that the right to bear arms in self-defense is natural and fundamental, belongs to all people, and is independent of one’s age or location.
So based on my reading of the law and of a parent’s obligations to that parent’s own child, not only was Darnell’s mother, Chelisa Grimes, right to provide her son with the means to defend himself against the initiation of force against her son by bullies, but Darnell was right to use that force to reasonably protect himself.
So to you bullied queer kids out there: Keep yourself alive, stand your ground, and use the least amount of retaliatory force possible to stay yourself safe. When threatened by bullies and school officials, keep in mind that these laws and Supreme Court decisions exist that can benefit you. Use the law itself as a weapon to force the schools into understanding that they must send a message that school administrators and boards so often don’t want to send: Bullying of LGBTQIA kids is wrong, and those who bully must be prepared for appropriately legal self-defensive actions when queer kids stand their ground against their bullies.