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Why New York Kids Say It Couldn't Happen Here


"Yeah," said Doug, "but it's more behind-the-back than to their face. If kids don't like other kids, they just won't hang out with them, or won't talk to them. They just steer clear of them. The Herbs have their own group of friends they can do stuff with on the weekends. It's not like they're all alone . . ."

He looked a bit pained. "I mean, I think they must think about how they're not invited and stuff, but I don't think they think about it to the point where they . . . could do something like that."

"When I heard about it, the first thing I thought was how many times I wanted to do it," said the boy I met on lower Broadway. He was tall, thin, and pale, with jet-black hair and large eyes, large lips.

"I've wanted to do it -- seriously, I have," he said softly, standing under the awning of a building to keep out of the rain. "When I saw that Pearl Jam video where the kid comes and shoots himself in front of the whole class? It really scared me, because I had thought of things like that.

"In my high school," he said, "they just didn't acknowledge my existence. If I sat somewhere, they sat on the other side. It's like I was a ghost to them. They didn't say, 'Excuse me' -- like I didn't exist."

He said he was Puerto Rican in a mostly black high school in Brooklyn. "There's a lot of class division. If you're a little bit different, everyone ignores you. It built up once to the point where I did destroy a classroom; I was throwing desks and chairs. I went to that school for three years, and nobody even said hi to me.

"They all thought I was gay," he said.

"In elementary school, it was the same thing. I had long hair then, and they used to say I was a girl. I got beaten up almost every day. Once I came home with a broken tooth; once I came home with a black eye. And I would never fight back. Every time the bell would ring at three o'clock, I would go running home so I wouldn't get beaten. It was three o'clock, and I was literally shaking. I didn't go to school once for a week."

His parents moved at one point, and he briefly went to Edward R. Murrow High School. "I had no problems then; it was very diverse. You saw black people dating white people, and people who were openly gay. Everyone got along; everyone came from different neighborhoods.

"I think they should make all high schools like that," he said.

"The teachers, they tried to help me. Once, they had a meeting in the class for everybody to stop picking on me. But that just made things worse.

"I could see how that situation happened in Colorado. I mean, I'm not justifying it at all. But when I saw the Pearl Jam video, I could totally see myself doing it. Thank God, I was able to connect to myself.

"Kids are the most evil, meanest people in the world," he said, eyes narrowing, "and when you are stuck in a situation till you crack . . . I think those kids in Colorado had too easy access to guns, because I know that if we had as easy access to guns in New York, we'd have a lot more situations like that around here."

He blinked, his eyes liquid, black.

There was a street fair on upper Broadway last Saturday, the kind with flowery summer dresses blowing from vendors' stands and smoke from the crêpe and sausage grills billowing up into the sky.

Dylan Hass, 14, Sarina Straussner, 15, and Marjorie Cardon, 14, were sitting on a bench in the avenue island watching the swarms of people slowly move along. The girls were all in jeans and T-shirts, all small and bouncy and likely to break into musical laughter.

"Our principal made an announcement" after Columbine, Marjorie offered. (They all went to the High School for Environmental Studies on the Upper West Side.)

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