Sawyer Rosenstein was twelve years old when a bully punched him in his stomach hard enough to cause a blood clot in the artery that supplies blood to his spine. Two days later, the injury paralyzed him from the waist down, permanently, in a series of events declared “incredibly rare”. There is a certain heart-tugging sympathy we feel for the boy, because everyone has experienced a bully either as a victim or an agent or a powerless onlooker, and because in our experience bullying is merely “something kids just do”, and because this time it was more than that. Imagine being confined to a wheelchair for the better part of your entire life all because of the baseless anger of a violent child. Imagine no consequences to said child’s actions (the bully in this case, who was known to be one and had a history of violence, received only a few days’ suspension) and having to look him in the eye daily from your new wheelchair you’ll never leave. Try to imagine — and this is the difficult part — whether a $4.8 million check would make that prison any better.
The silver lining in this case, however, is the unusual evidence Rosenstein had of his bullying and his attempts to stop it. The young boy had sent repeated emails to his school’s administration, asking not for punishment for the bully but for some help in dealing with it personally. “I would like to let you know that the bullying has increased,” he bluntly wrote in one of his many emails, but the school just labeled him a “complainer” and cast him aside. Nothing, neither preventative nor punitive, was done. They downright allowed a child with obvious problems re: anger, expression, civility, etc. free reign to terrorize his victim. With such a trail of evidence, the school would be resoundingly declared guilty of negligence at trial — that they clearly knew that bullying occurred and willingly ignored it.
Despite such evidence, and perhaps because young Sawyer is now an 18-year-old college student and just wants to kind of move on, the case went to settlement, with the boy getting $4.8 million and the school district getting to deny all wrongdoing. Disappointing for those of us who want justice (if you couldn’t tell from the tone of this post), but nonetheless the next big step in this boys life. He’s interested in space and is studying Communication and by all appearances is a very bright young man. And New Jersey last year enacted tougher laws against bullying and accountability. Whether they will be effective or even enforced is yet to be seen.