The Cummings Brothers: Self-Defense

Written by Logan Cummings and Alex Cummings|
Video by Logan Cummings and Alex Cummings|

What should a student do if they’re getting beat up in school? Should they run? Call out for help? Fight back? Or just take it?

After interviewing students, it became clear what the most common reaction would be in a situation of violence. Twenty-nine students said that their initial reaction would be to fight back, many of them justifying it as self-defense and some saying that the attacker simply deserved it. Twenty-seven students offered some kind of a non-violent reaction; they would either call for help, run, or cry. Many of them suggested fighting as an alternative reaction. Seven of those students said that it depended on the situation or that they weren’t sure about how they would react. After all, this situation isn’t too common for the students here.

As shown in the video, students are aware of the suspension punishment. Some cited it as a reason to not fight back, and some expressed frustration with it. Freshman Abe Adams-Hull said that a punishment is not fair if you’re defending yourself. “If you’re attacked and you defend yourself, I don’t like how you get in trouble for that ‘cause it’s not your fault.” He doesn’t think students should take the blame for getting attacked first. Freshman Mason Barron said, “even in the real world if you’re just defending yourself, you don’t get a punishment for it.”

In-School-Suspension Supervisor Mr. Zumpano offered some advice to students in a violent situation. If someone tries to fight you, you should simply say “I am not going to fight you” or give them a warning. He believes that self-defense should not happen unless your life is being threatened. He doesn’t encourage it because fighting in school is never acceptable.

Mr. Zumpano made it clear that he does not encourage fighting. He said it is not a good thing to fight in or out of school. You should alert someone if you are caught up in a fight. In the end, he said fighting is not okay at all. 

According to the official words of the Morgan Student Handbook, any engagement in fighting is punishable and can even lead to expulsion. While a suspension is a more likely punishment, fighting still puts students at risk of more than just physical injuries. Students have been uncertain as to whether or not the policy is actually this strict. According to Mr. Zumpano, the handbook is accurate.

For comparison, the legal system in the US is more forgiving. Self-defense law isn’t clean-cut (as most parts of the law are) because it’s not always easy to determine what is an appropriate extent of retaliation. In other words, it’s hard to judge when an act of defense is appropriate for the circumstances. That being said, if it is decided that an act of self-defense is appropriate, then the victim won’t get in any trouble for it.

Officer Spencer Mangs articulated this idea in a similar way. On the subject of self-defense, he emphasized that “it’s case by case, there’s no blanket answer for it.” While there isn’t an easy way to define the boundary between self-defense and offensive behavior, Officer Mangs believes that “everyone has the right to defend themselves” in a situation where their safety is at significant risk.

Here are our own thoughts:

Logan: I think if high school is supposed to prepare us for the real world, then we should be able to have an appropriate reaction to a violent situation. Could a student run away from a violent situation or call for help? Of course they could, but that doesn’t guarantee that the attacker can’t catch up to them or cause harm before help arrives. Self-defense seems to be the best way to minimize damage to the victim; detaining the attacker immediately is better than waiting for an adult to get into the mix. In the heat of the moment, it seems more natural to fight back anyway. This policy doesn’t get rid of violence in school, it just punishes students for naturally protecting themselves. If the law condones an appropriate level of self-defense, then schools should as well.

Alex: I agree with Mr. Zumpano that fighting should only be allowed when you are being threatened with a weapon. I think they should put a little more detail into the student handbook about fighting and explain the policy more thoroughly. I believe that students should have the right to defend themselves to a certain extent. If someone tried to punch me while I was just walking down the hallway then I would try to get them off of me. I don’t think that there are that many real fist-fights here at Morgan, although there is some pushing around. I also think that if you have the right to defend yourself in public then you should have the right to defend yourself at school. If someone is punching me in the hallway I should be allowed to use equal force to get them off of me.

While many consider self-defense to be a fair and reasonable reaction to a violent situation, it’s clear that the school policy says otherwise. Fortunately, fights are uncommon at Morgan so the policy doesn’t present itself as a prominent issue.

If you haven’t yet, make sure to see our first article here!

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