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Students protesters and the Guard

04/10/03 12:00AM By Allen Gilbert
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(Host) The news story about alleged harassment in Montpelier of a Vermont National Guard member has generated national publicity. Commentator Allen Gilbert thinks that the high school students being accused in the incident aren't being treated fairly.

(Gilbert) We're doing truth, justice, and our kids a disservice. Students from Twinfield Union High School have been accused of cursing and throwing stones at a National Guard soldier in the parking lot of a Montpelier supermarket. If this is true, it's a serious offense. Our society doesn't condone physical assaults on other people, whether a soldier or anyone else. If it's true, it's also an insult to those who have agreed to put their lives on the line for our security and freedoms.

But the problem is, we don't know if the incident actually happened. So far, the only evidence is the accusation by the unnamed Guard member. But the Guard member has declined to make her accusation publicly. No complaints have been filed with police. No witnesses have come forth to substantiate her claim. At one point the incident was said to have taken place at a store 10 miles away. Then the site was fixed as the Montpelier supermarket.

But people in the supermarket and in a business across the street say they saw nothing. Twinfield students who were at the supermarket when the incident allegedly took place have said that they did encounter a Guard member, but they have denied cursing or throwing stones at her. The parking lot of the supermarket is paved. There are no loose stones on the lot. Something is not right.

Imagine you are in a shopping mall parking lot. You pass a teenage Goth couple. Maybe you mutter something under your breath. Maybe they mutter something back. Maybe you scowl. Maybe they scowl back. You go home, and think little of the encounter. But two days later you read in your local paper that two unnamed teenagers are claiming that a crew-cut-straight adult threw stones at them at a local shopping mall. They're angry, and they advise other teens to avoid adults with crew cuts. The teens noted the license plate number of your car, and a reporter finds your car outside your house. The paper publishes your address.

Have you been treated justly? In fact, would the newspaper have even published an unsubstantiated allegation from the young Goths? Let's take the scenario one step further. Imagine that the story of the "assault" is picked up nationally, and everywhere adults with crew cuts are vilified. Imagine that the state Legislature passes a resolution condemning the harassment of teen Goths.

Imagine that some people question the veracity of the charge, and think that there should be an investigation. But the governor dismisses the idea. He admits that, "We don't really know what happened," but adds, "I don't think it's important to the overall context of supporting our teens and moving on in a very positive way."

Twinfield students deserve better from the adults in our state. During a time of war, it's not just our troops that must be at their best. It is ordinary citizens as well. All of us. It's our responsibility to act according to facts and not prejudices. As we look for enemies without, we shouldn't imagine enemies within. Let's not let our kids down.

This is Allen Gilbert.

Allen Gilbert of Worcester is a writer and parent who is active in education issues.

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