Jaheem Herrera

suicide.0421Another 11 year old boy committed suicide over homophobic slurs at his school, in Atlanta GA.  Jaheem Herrera and his family moved to the mainland from the U.S Virgin Islands only one year ago. His grade school nightmare in Dekalb County began almost immediately after. Like Carl Walker Hoover, one day Jaheem could no longer stand the taunts of “gay” and “f-gg-t” and the mocking of his accent that dogged his school day. On Thursday of last week, he came home and hung himself in his room.

Jaheem was found by his 1o year old sister Yerralis. His step-father found her screaming “Get him down! Get him Down!” and prevented his youngest sister, 7 years old, from coming into the room.

Also like Carl, Jaheem’s school has a policy against both oppression-based bullying and violence in the schools. Their policy includes a 3 strikes your out system for real time bullying and a zero tolerance for cyber-bullying. Yet, he too was the target of daily harassment at his middle school.

Like Carl’s mom, Jaheem’s mother alerted the school to the problem and asked them to intervene. Nothing seemed to change as her son got more and more depressed. She has already hired a lawyer to ensure the next mother who asks gets action.

One of Jaheem’s friends told his mother that:

Jaheem asked if anyone would miss him if he wasn’t here. [His friend] told [Jaheem] ‘He was his friend and he would miss him.’ (AJC)

Sadly the voices of homophobic children and individual school administrators who did not effectively stop the violence were louder than that of Jaheem’s friend. The anti-gay messages that dot youtube, mark national level political campaigns, and pour out of the radios in almost every town in this nation, and the parents who repeat it at the dinner table, helped prime these children to attack a defenseless 11 year old boy. He was not their peer, he was their target and ultimately their victim.

Again, I am at a loss for what to say about these young boys, many of them of color, who may or may not have been gay or genderqueer but who paid the price for a homophobic society that says “choose what you want” but leave “my country,” “my family,” and “my schools” alone. The conservatives’ imagined ownership of everyone’s country, everyone’s families, and everyone’s schools, are killing everyone’s children. The people who sit silently on the sidelines and do nothing are helping them to do it.

Enough is enough.

——-

source for this article: AJC

image: AJC/Curtis Compton

9 thoughts on “Jaheem Herrera

  1. Thank you for your post here. It is an excellent tribute to how far this country still has to go.

    It is about time that the religious right understands the repercussions of raising their children and teaching them that it is alright to discriminate against those who are smaller, weaker, or simply different from you.

    The two boys in the last few weeks have only served as victims in a society where they can be taunted and labeled with identities that they do not understand, only to take their own lives because of the pain they endure in an unmoderated school environment.

    Enough is enough. We need more than simple tolerance in America, we need overall acceptance of all people’s, regardless of creed, religion, race, sexual orientation, or life station.

    Our children need to be taught that slanderous language is not acceptable in any environment and that their actions have direct and devastating repercussions.

  2. not to derail, but an overweight girl in WA was also bullied at her school this year. She was considering suicide and told her mother, who also went to the school repeatedly. Finally, her mom called the police on the kids b/c the school hadn’t helped. The police found out that the school hadn’t really followed thru on anything.

    I think we need to stop trusting the schools to protect our kids regardless of why they are being oppressed.

    • Carrie ann, I do agree that all bullying is unnecessary in the grand-scheme of things, but it is essential that schools play a key role in the protection of the children in America, as parents are paying for (property tax or private school tuition) and entrusting the care of their children to the schools for 7 or 8 hours out of the day.

      Without being able to hold accountable, the adults responsible for ensuring the physical and mental safety of the children of America, what confidence can we have in hoping for an overall moral evolution of the fabric of our society?

      Whether it’s physical appearance, mental or physical disability, station in life, religion, creed, color, or sexual orientation, it is the equal responsibility of parents and schools to ensure a safe, pleasant, and overly satisfying educational experience for children.

  3. @ Carrie Ann – welcome to the blog. Other blogs may have different definitions, but around here as long as you privilege the actual content of the post you are welcome to elaborate anyway you want. I agree, its important that we look at all of the cases of oppression based harassment that is impacting students and I outline some of this in the post on Carl. Finding out where these cases overlap will make for better activism around reforming the school system; dealing with the specificity of each kind of identity based violence will also help ensure school safety for targeted groups that have specific needs (ie girl children have specific oppressions and specific needs, GLBTQ students have specific oppressions and specific needs, etc.). I’d also like to see a little more discussion of the intersections here since three of the last 4 cases involving homophobic harassment of boys, and all of the ones at the middle school level, were also boys of color and at least two from immigrant or perceived immigrant populations. The courts and the police may not be the best options for youth on the margins, especially intersecting margins since they tend to criminalize their identities . . .

    @amiworking – you make an important point about the amount of time youth spend in school on a given day; 8 hours is a long time to be emotionally and/or physically harassed, especially if it is done in front of teachers or administrators who do nothing to stop it. I agree we definitely have to be able to hold schools accountable.

    I am curious however, given how much the anti-gay marriage movement has centered around the fear of “teaching homosexuality” in schools, how they would react to inclusive curriculum. Seems schools are only one piece of a larger puzzle as I imply in the post about Carl.

    Here is an interesting case from 2007 in which parents sued the school district for enforcing a zero tolerance policy for “gay slurs.” The utter lack of understanding about the oppressive origins of the phrase despite its common usage and the consequence for the school resonate in really frightening ways given these two boys deaths. (And even tho she lost the case, the judges statements still put the issue into the “kids will be kids” framework instead of the oppression one.)

  4. Just a small correction to understand the heart breaking scope of how early this can begin. Jaheem was in an elementary school, not middle school. His torment was brought on by other pre-pubescents. Such oppressive, dominating, and discriminating behavior in children so young is learned from home whether it’s family, program choices, church, or neighborhood talk. I never met the young Jaheem but this weighs very heavily on me. Hopefully, it will weigh heavily enough on people that the proper actions will be taken to protect children in the future. And please, please truly listen to the kids.

    You did mention that the homophobic bullying seems to be more prevalent toward children(boys especially) of color. Several of my LGBT friends have commented that it is more difficult to gain acceptance in the African American community. It seems similar in the Latino community. It is definitely worth deeper observation. We’ve all discussed if it may be related to strong religious backgrounds in those communities. At least that is prevalent here in the south.

    • (FYI – I edited this comment to make it shorter/less wordy)

      welcome to the blog Lynette. Thanks for the correction, all though my heart sunk a little reading it. I’ve changed the text to accurately reflect his grade range.

      Mohatt (white) and Walker-Hoover (black) were both harassed by primarily white students not students of color. As for Jaheem, they not only called him “gay” but also “taunted him about his accent” according to ABC news, so it is likely that many of his tormentors were also white and certainly guilty of relying on anti-immigrant sentiment.

      With regards to race and homophobia, in general, I think it is important to remember that there is homophobia in ever community. All communities need to be held accountable for their homophobia from an anti-racist, culturally appropriate, model. Since you are in the South, I’m sure you have many examples of poc homophobia while someone in a predominantly white community might have only examples of white homophobia. The important thing is to remember how the bigotry of the dominant culture survives through divide and conquer and work toward both education and alliance that shifts their homophobia as much as any one community’s homophobia. One way to do that is to keep on top of intersectional analysis, documented events and stats over conjecture or popular opinion, and challenging everyone on their stuff.

      there is a lot to unpack when we start talking about these particular intersections, so the more we all keep talking about it, hopefully the better we will be at combating oppression.

  5. This is horrible! I saw an ad for Oprah yesterday saying she was going to have both moms on. Did you see it? Did you do the issue justice? is there any? . . .

    • welcome to the blog Erica. I saw that ad as well but I did not watch as I was working. I hope she did do an in depth discussion that addressed not only bullying in general, as implied by the ad, but also gender and sexuality policing and the rise in hate crimes many are linking to the national coverage and intense anti-marriage campaign. I worry that Oprah is not always the most sensitive about the latter issues and while I’ve tried not to label any of these children with names they do not call themselves, and to use their deaths as an example of how bigotry impacts all of us, I do think we have to delve into the specific types of targeting going on.

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