The vigilante force of the Internet

June 25, 2012

America has lined up in support of Karen Huff Klein, a 68-year-old grandmother in Greece, New York, who was tormented by four teenagers while working as a bus monitor. Her ordeal was brought to the public’s attention with three postings on YouTube by that stated:

Note: I had nothing to do with this, I saw the video on Facebook and uploaded it here to show the world how messed up these kids are.

The public response has been deafening. YouTube is filling up with responses to the original bullying videos, and these reactions are nearly universal in condemnation of the teens. Meanwhile, an independent site that was originally established to raise $5,000 for a vacation for the victim has already raised over $533,000. More than 24,000 people want to make the situation right for Klein and have donated to the fund. America is pouring out its heart to this woman. Although public employees are increasingly being vilified in this country, Americans are rallying to the support of one who has been so egregiously wronged.

But there has also been a dark, and potentially violent, response to the bullying of Klein. Postings on the Internet revealed the names, ages and addresses of the bullies, opening them to harassment. Greece Police Captain Steve Chatterton said in a press conference yesterday that the children and their families had been subjected to death threats and prank 911 calls. He said that police resources were being stretched to patrol their four residences. In the press conference, authorities from the town supervisor’s office, police department and school district implored the public to let the rule of law unfold in the case and not to take vigilante action. The Greece School District issued a statement:

We have received thousands of phone calls and emails from people across the country wanting to convey their thoughts. People are outraged by what has happened and they feel the students should be punished. While we agree that discipline is warranted, we cannot condone the kind of vigilante justice some people are calling for. This is just another form of bullying and cannot be tolerated.

According to Captain Chatterton, even though the school district is prepared to act to the full extent of the law, Klein has so far declined to press charges. The Internet has made this story international and brought massive support for the victim and condemnation for the aggressors. Karen Huff Klein may have just become the poster child for public workers and changed some attitudes toward them.

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