By now most of us have heard the story of John Webster, the Queens physical education teacher who is suing the school where he works after a 6 year-old attacked him.
Webster is 5’10” and 220lbs, and a former Div III football player.
He says the student was jumping, spinning around like crazy and trying to attack him. When Webster restrained him by holding both his arms, the child kicked him in the knee, resulting in an injury that required surgery, broke his ankle and bit him. These injuries have kept him out of work and he has accumulated a lot of medical bills as a result.
It’s easy to want to make fun of Webster for claiming injuries so severe were caused by a child. We think a grown man, especially one as strong as Webster, should be able to protect himself against a kid, right? But what was Webster supposed to have done? The police were called after the attack, but no actions were taken.
Imagine if the scenario had played out in another way. What if Webster had not just held the boy’s arms, as he claims he did, but also struck him or held him on the ground while the kid kicked, hit, and bit the teacher? Webster would have to put the child into a potentially painful and dangerous hold in order to prevent those attacks. How would the media (not to mention his employers and the criminal justice system) view a large Black man forcibly restraining a 6 year old boy, perhaps resulting in the boy being injured?
Here we have a tall, strong man who most likely did exactly what he should have done: restrained a violent student in a way that would not injure the child, and the media is making him look like a wimp. Take, for example, the phrase appearing in most of the news headlines: “beaten up”. Wouldn’t the word “attacked” be more accurate to reflect the actions of the child, instead of playing upon than the alleged weakness of Webster?
Beyond the phraseology being used to make Webster seem weak, even more troubling questions arise. First, why is this minor child’s name appearing almost everywhere in the news regarding this story? This is a 6 year old boy we are talking about here. Even if we were to assume that the kid is guilty of this attack (and there is no reason to believe he is not, but he is not being charged), he is still a minor and his name should be withheld.
What’s worse, photographs of the 6 year-old are appearing in many of these news stories, some with the kid posed in a fighting position. Imagine what we’re teaching this child (and others) about violence with these messages. And amazingly, it gets worse—the caption under the child’s photo reads, “Tiny Terror”.
This is a child, people. A little boy. One must imagine that the alleged violence comes from somewhere. If he is guilty of the attack, he needs help, not exploitation. If he is not guilty, he is forever branded as a “terror”, a deviant, a problem child for no reason. How will he get past this stigma if his face appears on major television networks and on sites like Yahoo! News, attached to the word “terror”? As we know, the Internet lives forever. How will these stories someday affect this boy’s ability to get a job or get into college someday?
Ultimately, we have to ask whose responsibility is it when a child attacks a teacher. Is it the teacher’s job to do what’s necessary to protect him or herself? Or does the school system, and ultimately the city, have a responsibility to keep its teachers safe? How about financially? Should John Webster be awarded a settlement in this case?
Regardless of these answers, it is the media’s responsibility to protect this child, regardless of whether he is troubled, and to keep him anonymous. We must remind ourselves every day that as successful as a great headline and a controversial photo of a little boy with his fists up may be, a child’s future is not worth it in the end.