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The Lynch Mob Goes After Goths

In the wake of school massacres like Columbine, it's easy to point fingers in an effort to understand the incomprehensible. Many people blame the schools, many blame the Internet, many blame video and role-playing games, and many blame the Gothic subculture. Few people are brave enough to lay blame on the shooters themselves, and fewer still brazen enough to finger the parents as culprits. All the while, innocent kids across the country have been suspended from school, threatened, and even arrested for sporting trenchcoats, for wearing black lipstick, or for simply being "different."

Goths all over America protested the labeling of the shooters as "Goths" after the Columbine shootings in an attempt to defend their lifestyle: "I don't want to walk down the street and have people think, oh, she's psycho, like those killers," says Gothic clothing store manager Forresst Lehrman in a 1999 Seattle Times article ("Media Spreads Misunderstanding of Goth Culture"). Similar sentiments can be heard from almost every Goth in the scene, spawning such response associations as "Goths Against Hate," which raised money for donations to the families of Columbine tragedy victims. Unfortunately, the stereotyping of Goths as violent, anti-social, aggressive teens seems to go too deep for any of that to have meaning.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has taken up the defense of several dozen cases of discrimination against students since the Columbine incident. "It seems to have become a witch hunt," ACLU staff attorney Ann Beeson told the Seattle Times in May of 1999 ("ACLU Swamped With Complaints Since Littleton"). According to the article, eleven high school students in Brimfield, Ohio were suspended following the Columbine shootings based on a Gothic website they maintained. The website, which was created before Columbine, was updated after the shootings with sarcastic praise of the shooters and statements like: "I wonder how long it'll be before we're allowed to wear our trenchcoats anymore. You know those screwed up kids in Colorado were wearing them, so that means I will also kill someone, and so will all my friends." The school found this website threatening and immediately suspended all eleven students; the ACLU successfully fought that suspension.

The Seattle Times article also described several similar incidents taken on by the ACLU, including the case of a Pennsylvania girl who was suspended after declaring in a class discussion about Columbine that she could understand how someone who is teased endlessly could snap; an Illinois boy who was interrogated for an hour and a half by a school psychologist about what kinds of video games he plays and whether or not he looks for bomb-making instructions on the web; and an Arizona boy who was given in-school detention for possessing an electronics book that contained ads for guns (the 13-year-old was later arrested for drawing a cartoon of the school blowing up). "It really scares me. Anybody who doesn't fit into a specific category or dresses differently or is considered a nerd or a geek, all of a sudden they're a suspect. The students are losing their constitutional rights," says Andy Brumme, staff counsel for the ACLU in South Carolina. At the May 1999 press time of the Seattle Times article, Brumme was considering filing a complaint against a high school in Columbia, South Carolina that searched three students who were sent to the principal's office for wearing all black. One of the students was asked why he was carrying a Chemistry book. (Chemistry class, perhaps?)