Fighting isn’t the answer

• Editor’s note: This is another in a series of columns about youth welfare on the island.

Far too many children are being arrested for assault, said Analeah Atkinson, the Teen Court coordinator for Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i.

She wanted to publicly commend a female high school student who stepped in between two boys who were about to fight on campus as she temporarily spared them from being arrested for mutual assault.

“It takes class and courage to stand up to fighting,” she said.

The boys shook hands and went their separate ways.

Later that day on campus, they found themselves once again in close proximity with each other. This time, a crowd gathered, someone pushed one of the boys into the other, a fight ensued, and although the boys apologized to each other, they were still arrested for mutual assault under the state Department of Education and Kaua‘i Police Department zero-tolerance policy concerning on-campus violence, Atkinson explained.

In addition to being arrested, the boys also put themselves in positions where they could have gotten hurt, she added.

Psychologists have researched that when people are highly emotional, such as being very angry, their thinking ability decreases.

People who might usually be reasonable could lose it and do or say things they will regret later.

Ask any person who has gone through a court process for assault who is given another chance, say he or she would have chosen another way.

It is far harder to repair the harm caused by an angry outburst then to learn how to manage the anger in the moment, she said.

People get angry because their needs aren’t being met. But that is another subject.

This week’s article is addressing the misdemeanor offense of assault in the third degree and is an answer to a grandmother’s question.

Teen Court gets its referrals of first-time, juvenile, status and misdemeanor offenders from the Kaua‘i Police Department.

Families want to use Teen Court because, when the offender completes his or her sentencing requirements, the offense is cleared from the child’s record.

The grandmother called the Teen Court manager to ask why her grandson wasn’t able to use Teen Court, since he was a first-time offender.

Her grandson had gotten into a fight at his school with another boy. Initially, he was charged with assault in the third degree, and was referred to Teen Court, because that is a misdemeanor.

However, it turned out that the fight resulted in a broken bone. The KPD officers Police asked the Teen Court manager to return the case to them, as it was now assault in the second degree, which is a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

Hawaii court rules define the following:

• A person commits assault in the third degree if he or she intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another person. “Bodily injury” in this use means “physical pain,” “illness,” or “any impairment of physical condition;”

• A person commits assault in the second degree if he or she intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes serious bodily injury to another person. “Serious bodily injury” in this case means “bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.” The broken bone was considered impairment of the function of a bodily member, therefore the charge became assault in the second degree.

Everyone on this island needs to understand that there is zero tolerance for fighting in Kaua‘i public schools, Atkinson said.

Schools need to be safe places for children. If fighting occurs, the police will be called.

Research shows that children cannot learn as well when they are stressed, and being around fighting, bullying and teasing is stressful.

After reading many cases of assault which occurred in the schools, a common pattern is observable.

A rumor starts. A child tells another one that a certain person is talking “stink” (or something worse) about him or her.

There seems to be a lot of pressure on students to save face in the schools. The child then huffs about, and decides to “call out” the other student, while many other students stand around, encouraging them to fight, she said.

“In Your Corner,” the title of this column, is a phrase that means support.

Its origin comes from boxing. In between rounds, the boxer retires to his corner, and a group of people coach him, give him medical help, water, and cheer him on.

Several adults have “stepped into the corner” for Kaua‘i teens, to answer questions and give support in the boxing ring of life, Atkinson said.

They are K.C. Lum, KPD chief; Catherine Stovall, community-response specialist, County of Kaua‘i; Edmund Acoba, public defender; Craig De Costa, county prosecuting attorney; and Atkinson.

• Questions for this column may be e-mailed to Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org, or sent through the U.S. Postal Service to her at Annaleah Atkinson, 2959 ‘Umi St., Lihu‘e, HI 96766. She will forward them to the one who can most appropriately answer them. There is also a toll-free Teen Hotline, 1-877-521-8336.

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