The United States has come a long way as a society. Our country has not only grown economically, but also morally as well. While discrimination and prejudice still plague our nation today, these issues are nowhere near what they used to be during America’s early years. It seems that most modern citizens understand the importance of tolerance. Except, of course, those that still think it’s okay to mock little girls with cerebral palsy.
It’s hard not to read that sentence twice. But yes, it’s true. A 43-year-old Ohio man by the name of William Bailey was caught on tape derisively mimicking the physical symptoms of cerebral palsy. His actions were allegedly meant to make fun of Hope Holcomb-Knight, 10, who has the condition. Hope’s mother recorded the incident on her iPod camera. Bailey was at a school bus stop at the time picking up his son and can be seen in the video walking with a limp while pounding his chest, physical symptoms typical in those afflicted with cerebral palsy.
As you can probably imagine, Bailey’s alleged antics didn’t sit very well with Hope’s family. Her mother posted the video online, viewable here. It soon went viral and a public outcry followed. Hope’s mother then filed a complaint with city prosecutors who, surprisingly, pressed charges against Bailey. And even more surprising is that Bailey was actually convicted and sentenced to a month in jail, ostensibly for taunting Hope.
In Bailey’s defense, he claims that he was only reacting to name-calling directed toward his 9-year-old son. The incident was apparently the result of a culmination of rising tensions between the two families. Regardless, the more interesting aspect of this story is how a person can be criminally prosecuted for taunting another person. Well, prosecutors figured out a way. They charged Bailey with disorderly conduct and aggravated menacing, both misdemeanors in Ohio.
We’ve talked about disorderly conduct many times before. It’s basically a catch-all law that prohibits any conduct that’s likely to cause public alarm and/or annoyance. In Bailey’s case, his alleged cerebral palsy mocking was sufficient to secure a conviction under the state’s statue. However, what’s odd here is that in Ohio a disorderly conduct conviction doesn’t allow for any jail time. Bailey was actually put behind bars because of his aggravated menacing conviction.
Aggravated menacing is basically a form of assault where a defendant causes another to believe that they will cause serious physical harm to that person or their family. Hope’s mother claimed Bailey threatened to choke her with a chain on the same day of the original incident. And this was actually the charge that landed Bailey a jail sentence.
Now you may be thinking that we pulled a switcheroo on you, what with our attention-grabbing headline. “Wait, Bailey was jailed for menacing, not taunting a cerebral palsy girl. You sneaky blogger, stop trying to drive traffic to your website!” However, before you jump to conclusions, the chief assistant city prosecutor for the case actually admitted that Bailey’s alleged mockery was a major factor in securing his jail sentence. Have a little faith in us, geez.
Of course, what this also means is that a somewhat disturbing precedent has been set against the rights of Ohioans. While Bailey’s alleged actions were no doubt heinous and he should be reprimanded in some way for them, jail isn’t necessarily the best way. After all, people make fun of others every day. People also curse each other out and do all manner of rude things to each other, too. What of these people?
Theoretically, Bailey’s conviction could serve as a basis to help justify disorderly conduct and/or menacing convictions for these folks as well. In which case, where does the line get drawn? Certainly, no rational person would agree that making fun of a child with cerebral palsy is acceptable behavior, but how about an overly sensitive person with irritable bowel syndrome or a bad haircut? Such a person could undergo a similar level of trauma as Hope, but should they be able to secure convictions against their mockers, too?
Probably not, but as you can see, the line is murky at best. While there is no word yet on whether Bailey plans to appeal his sentence, as it stands, his conviction sets an uneasy justification against the basic rights of citizens. Certainly, our world would be much better without jerks. But much like our eventual robot overlords will surmise, everyone can be considered a jerk.