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Deerfield Beach – Two Tragedies in Five Months – by Rodger Dinwiddie, Executive Director


By now most Americans have heard something of the stories these last five months about the two senseless and violent episodes in the Deerfield Beach Community. Michael Brewer and Josie Ratley both victimized, traumatized, and violently assaulted, leaving scars that they will have to deal with the rest of their lives. Josie remains in an induced coma fighting day by day for her life.

It makes me sick! Michael Brewer doused with gasoline, set on fire by three students who attended his middle school. Michael was seriously burned over an episode involving a bicycle and a video game. And, two weeks ago, Josie Ratley, another middle school student from the same middle school was beaten savagely by a fifteen year old male student who didn’t even know her, yet evidently had predmediitatively sought to physically assault her … over a text message exchange. Another thirteen year old female friend of the young man was changed as an accomplice in the crime.

In listening to the story reported on the Today Show this week, I was filled with sadness and anger at the level of violence perpetuated by these young people. During the reporting of the story, the Deerfield Beach Sheriff stated, “Our young people are living in a “culture of callousness.”  Additional information in the coverage of this story revealed that juvenile crime across the nation is down.  You’d never know it by the tragedies we hear about each day through media outlets.  

In my opinion, there was a failure in the reporting of these two stories.  Both accounts associated these vicious acts with bullying which confuses the issue altogether. These two senseless acts were criminal assaults committed by young people, who at least for all practical appearances did not seem to care about the importance and value of life.   The perpetrators of these acts either intended to take life or permanently disfigure another human being. After the savage beating of Josie, her perpetrator texted someone else, “I think I’m going to prison. I think I just killed someone.” Using the term bullying has become a phrase too commonly used in culture when something goes wrong with young people. While these acts were certainly acts of aggression committed to inflict harm, it is important to call these acts what they are … crimes.

For years, STARS has been a leader in helping young people deal with violence and bullying. We have defined violence as “any mean word look sign or act that hurts a person’s body, feelings or things.” And, we have stressed over and over that there are two fuels of violence; entitlement and tolerance. People feel entitled to act violently because it is too often tolerated in our culture … by both adults and young people. Someone said it very eloquently years ago … what we accept today we will tolerate tomorrow!

It appears that one impact of violence in media, and in culture, is the increasing numbing effect that it seems to have on all of us but I don’t know that I agree with the Sheriff’s assessment that our young people are living in a “culture of callousness.” There are far too many young people who are living lives of honor, integrity, dignity, and who demonstrate empathy toward their fellows in their daily interactions. There are many courageous young people who stand up and do the right things each day. The acts perpetrated against Michael and Josie are the aberration. Violence is violence and the two horrible acts in Deerfield Beach were senseless, callous acts of insensitivity and disregard for life, committed by individuals who may be callous. However, the good news according to most of the survey data that we have conducted around violence and bullying reveals that the huge majority of young people detest the senseless acts being committed in their midst. Too often they simply don’t have the confidence or the skills to do something about their feelings of disgust.

Young people need healthy models of how to live with civility. At STARS our staff works with thousands of young people each year who are developing programs and strategies to teach others how to do just that … live with peace and civility and act on their true feelings about these senseless acts.  And each year STARS trains thousands of adults in how to implement strategies identified as best practices in dealing with violence, bullying and other forms of aggression.  STARS is committed to doing everything possible to help young people and those who care for them prevent tragedies such as these. It is my hope that both Michael and Josie heal, and that the Deerfield community experiences comfort, peace and healing. If STARS can help your school or community develop strategies to prevent violence and bullying, and reduce the chance for such awful crimes as those committed in Deerfield Beach, please contact us at 615-279-0058.