The two young bullies raised their hands amid the hundreds of other students in the elementary school auditorium. Kids crooned their necks, rising from their seats for a better view.
“We are going to help you know what to do, and change your behavior,” said Monica Harmon, an LAPD volunteer and public safety advocate, wearing a sparkly “No Bully Zone” tee-shirt.
Harmon is part of the “Stand Up and Speak Out Against Bullying” campaign. Since February 2011 she has traveled to schools throughout Los Angeles with LAPD officers, talking to roughly 15,000 students at all grade levels about the dangers of bullying.
“A lot of times bullies are being bullied at home…so they come to school and they start picking on one of you kids,” Harmon told the elementary students at Trinity Street School in South Los Angeles.
About 500 students between second and fifth grade sat through the hour-long assembly on bullying this morning learning to “stand up, speak out, and walk” if someone tries to bully them.
Bullying is the most underreported public safety issue in schools today,” Harmon said. About 13 million kids are bullied each year and 3 million don’t go to school each month because they’re afraid, Harmon said.
Raise your hand if you’re afraid to go to school because of bullying, Harmon said, and 30 kids shot an arm up.
“Some people don’t like you because you’re different, they’ll pick on you, because that’s what a bully does,” LAPD Deputy Chief Jose Perez told the kids. “…When they start to bully you, it’s because they’re scared of you, or think you’re better than them.”
Sometimes reporting can be difficult and it is hard to provide administrators with specific details to help build a case, Harmon said. “I’m going to make you all little detectives,” she told the students. “You need to start writing it down…so you have a log."
Students watched a celebrity video on bullying, gasping as they recognized Justin Bieber and Kobe Bryant tell them to stand up against bullies and “be a hero.”
“You know what they did to Lady Gaga when she was bullied in school?” Harmon asked them. “They picked her up and threw her in a trash can.” Loud murmurs of surprise filled the auditorium and students wriggled in their seats.
Police officers shared their own stories of dealing with bullies.
“I used to tell them, ‘no, get away from me,’” said LAPD Capt. Jorge Rodriguez. He told the students he would remember what his mother told him: “Sticks and stones will hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
At the end of the presentation Harmon told the students to stand up. They raised their right hands and took the pledge:
“I pledge to help stop bullying. I’m a strong student. I pledge to treat others with respect. I refuse to bully others. And if I see bullying, I will tell an adult. I will be a good role model at school. I refuse to watch. I refuse to laugh. And I refuse to join in if I see someone bullied. I can help change things. I pledge to stand up, and speak up, against bullying.”