When Bullying Leads to Suicide

Confining notions of how a black man should look and act can have dangerous consequences. I know firsthand.

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Curtis Compton / AJC

I wish I could’ve spoken to Carl Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera before they decided to kill themselves.

Not to tell them that they’re far too young to take their lives at 11. Evidently both felt otherwise. I wouldn’t have bothered repeating the trite adage “sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” Because words can sometimes be more painful than any physical blow you can throw at a person. I wouldn’t act as if the slurs, insults and taunts that haunted them at school would end anytime soon … if ever.

What I would have told them is that they’re not alone. That they are not the first to be targeted by bullies for possibly being different. Or that they are not the only ones who have been called a faggot in the hallway.

I wish I could’ve told them that I know exactly how they feel.

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old Massachusetts student, hanged himself after enduring bullying at school. Although Walker-Hoover himself never identified as such, he was the victim of daily taunts of being called gay.
Not long after his suicide, another 11-year-old, Jaheem Herrera, was discovered by his younger sister, hanging by an extension cord in their DeKalb County apartment in Georgia.

He, too, was bullied by his classmates and was routinely called gay and a snitch.

I know all too well about kids going after anyone they suspect as gay or “soft.” Whether I was stepping onto a school bus, into a classroom or inside the cafeteria, I felt like a target. I was that kid who went through school listening as other students—and in some cases teachers—made jokes about the way I walked and talked.

I worried constantly about whether or not I was going to have to get into a fight on any given day because someone mistakenly made me out to be an easy target. Everyone around me wanted to be considered “hard,” and since I never felt compelled to put on airs that way, some thought they could test me.

And I lived with the fear that it would never end.

I understand the sadness each boy probably endured, and though I did often fight back, I still contemplated killing myself just so I wouldn’t have to fight ever again. I wasn’t sure if I could take it, constantly being attacked for something I had no control over. I thought I was strong, but dealing with people’s hatred started to drain me. After a while, I felt like giving up.