A Virginia teen has been slapped with assault charges despite being brutally beaten in an altercation at his high school. Eric Martin spent nine days in the hospital after a fight at Highland Springs High School in Henrico, Virginia. His story is far too familiar for LGBT+ youth and even those merely perceived to be LGBT+.
The assault charges from the Henrico Police come almost two weeks after Martin and his mother, Mary Martin, claim that the teenager threw a first punch in the altercation which landed him in the hospital, reported by local news channel NBC 12. The Martins claim that Eric only threw a punch because he was consistently tormented by bullies who repeatedly harassed him with anti-gay slurs.
Regardless of whether or not the first overtly physical action taken was by Eric, the long list of injuries make it clear he was pretty unevenly matched. His mother says that the response to her son's punch was beyond commensurate.
A head injury. A broken hand. That's not just a fight. That's a beating. That's a vicious beating.
Yeah... that sounds awfully familiar. One of the best parts of working for a publication which has an editorial style like the family of Gawker Media sites is in the freedom authors have to contextualise news events like this with their own personal stories. While I have never spent nine days in the hospital, some of my own beatings were pretty severe as a clearly gender-variant child and adolescent, including a few weeks on crutches and a barely survived fall on my neck. So let me contextualise:
I completely believe that Eric Martin threw the first punch. What seems to be missing from the reporting, and probably from the administration's version of events, was how Eric ended up in the position of having to throw the punch in the first place. That's extremely important to understanding how badly the administration fucked up in its mission of protecting Eric, and how likely it is that assault charges are completely ridiculous.
Look, I know these kinds of kids. They were literally, not figuratively, the bane of my existence growing up. They don't verbally harass you from across the hall. They don't yell slurs at you in the middle of an open area. That's now how this works. They corner you. They do it in private. An alcove area in the school's architecture. Behind the bleachers. In a locker room or bathroom. They get between you and your method of escape. And if they can get away with it, they get violent. You never know if today is going to be the day they think they can, so you nervously watch them, and you start looking for an opening. Your first instinct isn't to break a nose, it's merely to get the hell out of there. And yeah, maybe, after frantically considering your options, you think a punch will be enough of a surprise or a distraction that if you just keep moving as you do it, you can escape. Sometimes luck is on your side, the bullies really are surprised. Sometimes, you're not so lucky, and the wrath of God comes back on you, and you get the shit kicked out of you for the audacity to think you can fight back.
And even if you succeed, you'd better hope that the bullies don't have more than two brain cells to rub together, because if they do, with the completely unfair "zero tolerance" policy adoption we've had for the last twenty years in the American education system, you're going to have to face the school administration, too. You might even be looking at trying to keep yourself out of trouble with the law. All because the system says you defending yourself is morally, ethically, and legally the same as the routine bullying you've dealt with or the beating you receive after you do the only thing you can to try to escape.
Tammy Motola, a family advocate, has taken the Martins' case, and she and the family are apparently considering legal action because of the commonness of the experience I just related above.
It's always the perpetrators that get away with the crime. When the victims have finally had enough, after being verbally attacked and bullied for years and they snap...they are the ones that are penalised.
Another of my own personal experiences which meshes with Eric's: Mary Martin says the school demanded that Eric admit to having threatened the school because of his choice to stand up to his bullies. I had a similar experience where comparisons to Columbine were abhorrently thrown around as if an LGBT+ youth standing up against her bullies was somehow the same as prepping for a school shooting.
NBC 12 reports that the Henrico school system has refused to comment about the claim that they refused to allow Eric to return to school without signing a document where he admitted to verbally threatening the school.
That's fine, because Mary Martin has it on tape.
"That's the document, and unfortunately we are not going to be able to move forward with the variance until we have that," said a school administrator to Martin.
"Did you all hear Eric say it?" Martin asked. "Because that's hearsay."
"It is," replied the administrator. "But we have to complete documentation."
"I'm not signing anything," said Martin.
Yeah. That's some bullshit. Some bullshit I know happens because it happened to me. And although Eric may be able to get permission to move to another school, he will still have to fight these almost certainly ridiculous assault charges. It is deeply upsetting that it appears nothing has been learned since my school days came to an end. Nothing at all.
The family has set up a campaign to allow concerned individuals to show support for Eric by writing to him, according to Motola, his advocate.
It's just to encourage Eric to know that he is loved by many and that he is supported by literally thousands of people.
Letters can be sent to the following address: Letters for Eric, P.O.Box 993, Sandston, Va. 23150
Screencap via NBC 12.