Grandma Withstands Bus Bullies

Host Michel Martin and the Barbershop guys weigh in on the new NBA champions: the Miami Heat. They also discuss what should happen to a group of middle school boys who relentlessly bullied a 68-year-old school bus monitor. A video of the incident has gone viral, and one website has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the grandma.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer and culture critic, Jimi Izrael with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Also here in Washington, civil rights attorney and author Arsalan Iftikhar. From our bureau in New York City, columnist and blogger Jeff Yang. And Mario Loyola joins us from Austin, Texas. He writes for National Review magazine and is with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. That's a conservative think tank.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Well, la-de-da. Thanks for that, Michel. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

JEFF YANG: All right.

MARIO LOYOLA: (Unintelligible).

IZRAEL: All right. Well, let's get things started with, what else? The NBA.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Oh, my God, you're so fat.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yeah. You're fat.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Dude, you're so fat. You take up, like, the whole entire seat.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Oh, no. Oh, my God, your glasses are all foggy.

MARTIN: That is totally the wrong clip. I'm sorry for that.

IZRAEL: Yeah. That sounds like LeBron. Maybe Dwayne Wade kind of - maybe exchanging notes there.

MARTIN: No.

LOYOLA: Trash talking.

IZRAEL: Right. Exactly. Well, for those of us in the know, we know that the Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, 122 to 106. Michel, you picked it all along. You had it right. I know you're rooting for the Heat, right?

MARTIN: You know, see, I understand why all of you are trying to find a way not to give me my propers. I understand that.

IZRAEL: Not me. I mean, I...

MARTIN: Cue Aretha. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what - yes. I called it.

IZRAEL: NPR Idol over here.

MARTIN: Yes, I knew. I just felt that, after they lost the championship to the Mavericks last year, that they'd come back stronger. They had the chemistry. They had the desire. And your humble pie for dessert last night, Jimi - how did it taste?

IZRAEL: None, none.

MARTIN: How did it taste? Did you not say two weeks ago that LeBron was not, quote, "a finisher?"

IZRAEL: I did. I did, but he's obviously grown up a little bit and he's learned what it is. Look, here's the difference. The difference is that, in Cleveland, he was the team. In Miami, he's clearly playing on a team and he's learning how to do that, you know, and I think you learn how to do that when you don't have that kind of pressure. You know, when you're not carrying the team, the city, your baby mama, your baby mama's mama on your back, you know, you're able to kind of - you're able to kind of do your thing and operate and play well with others and learn what that means. And I think he earned it.

You know, this wasn't a blowout. Let's not pretend that it was 105 to 20. You know...

MARTIN: Won the last game. Yo.

IZRAEL: Yeah, yeah. This was...

MARTIN: Last game. All that matters. Thank you.

IZRAEL: Very serious. Anyway, Arsalan, A train...

IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir.

IZRAEL: After your beloved Celtics fell out of the series, you turned your support to the Thunder. You just can't catch a break, man.

IFTIKHAR: You know, as a grown man, I promised myself there are three things that I would never do. Number one, call another dude delicious. Number two, vote for...

IZRAEL: Whoa.

IFTIKHAR: Number two, vote for a Republican named Cheney and, number three, is root for the Miami Heat. And I knew I was in trouble today when I got an email from an NPR host who shall remain nameless at 12:15 in the morning last night, basically talking smack, but you know, LeBron got his. I will give him that. But you know, it was really, really interesting because a lot of people thought that Oklahoma City Thunder would take it this year, but they clearly showed that they're just not ready yet. I mean, their median age for the starting five is about 24.2 years old. They're young.

IZRAEL: That's not fair.

IFTIKHAR: They're going to be around, but you know, LeBron and the Miami Cavaliers - I mean the Miami Heat...

MARTIN: Oh, stop it. Oh, so...

IFTIKHAR: You know, finally got theirs.

MARTIN: You are so wrong.

IZRAEL: Could it just...

MARTIN: Does he have his green envy pants on today? Let me check.

IZRAEL: I mean, Oklahoma - I mean, could it just be that they were ready, but LeBron was also ready. He'd also reaches some maturity.

LOYOLA: No. Because this was the first time ever for the OKC Thunder to get to the NBA Finals.

IZRAEL: OK.

LOYOLA: LeBron was there last year, so you know, he...

IZRAEL: So they earned it?

LOYOLA: Well, they - I'm just - I'm saying they earned the berth there, but I'm saying that they didn't have it to take it to the next level.

IZRAEL: OK. Jeff...

MARTIN: What do the other guys say?

IZRAEL: Jeff Yang, how you feeling today, man? What - who were you rooting for? That's what I want to know.

YANG: Oh, that's a funny thing because I was actually just talking to somebody, saying I don't have a dog in this hunt. You know, after Linsanity died, I was like, all right. You know, I can move on to other sports, but the funny thing is I actually found myself rooting for the Thunder more because of that whole sort of underdog thing and feeling really hypocritical because I'm - you know, a Yankees fan up and down the street, all the way to the Bronx.

And the reason why they get slammed all the time is because, you know, obviously, they've got the big budget, big market. They buy their stars and that's exactly what the Heat did. And that's kind of why I think a lot of people, you know, beefed about the Heat kind of just rolling in and, you know, dropping this on the rest of the league, you know.

So, yeah. I mean, I was rooting for the Thunder. At the same time, I've got to sort of, you know, give propers to LeBron. He did prove something and, you know, it's good that he's not going out like Ewing did without - you know, a superstar without a title. This is probably the first of many.

MARTIN: Just one thing I got to clarify, though. There is a salary cap in the NBA, unlike in baseball.

IFTIKHAR: Right. That's the big difference.

MARTIN: It is not the same. The payrolls are pretty much the same, so...

IZRAEL: Mario Loyola.

MARTIN: Just thought I'd mention it.

IZRAEL: Super Mario, I know you want to - you like to get over to Miami from time to time, so I'm guessing that you're on your way to the airport right now to pop bottles with LeBron at this very moment, this weekend.

LOYOLA: Well, yeah. I've got - you know, I grew up in Miami. Half my family's there. I've got a lot of (foreign language spoken) cousins that are very happy today. You know, and I think it was a team thing more than a LeBron thing. Miami scored, you know, 20-something three-pointers. I think what happened here is the Heat is a more experienced team and a stronger team and once they figured out how to the Thunder, the Thunder got handled.

IZRAEL: Oh.

MARTIN: That's it. That's what's up. No more need be said.

IZRAEL: Yeah. So it wasn't a country mouse versus city mouse thing.

MARTIN: No.

IZRAEL: A lot of people were playing up that narrative.

LOYOLA: I mean I was sympathetic. Yeah, I'm here in Austin, Texas and we're sympathetic to, you know, to the region it was representing and I was sympathetic to that. I was sympathetic to underdog, country mouse, that's a very good compelling narrative but when you get handled you get handled and that's...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Mario is about the bottom line. He's like look, look, don't even try it.

IZRAEL: All right, guys. Well, you know what? Let's keep it moving because we all know that people are cheering for the bus monitor who got bullied on the bus - on the school bus, you know, this week. Michel?

MARTIN: You know, I don't know that we need to hear that again.

IZRAEL: Right. Right.

MARTIN: That was kind of what we were hearing by mistake earlier in the program. And I have to tell you that it is so disturbing - it is so disturbing that I don't really feel like I need to hear it again, if that's OK?

IZRAEL: Sure.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: But it's about as low as you - these were middle school kids. It was posted on YouTube under video a video under the title "Making the Bus Monitor Cry," which they did. And people were so outraged. That clip was actually an edited version. The entire video is about 10 minutes long. I personally cannot subject, you know, myself or you to this.

And, can I just tell you this and, you know, I have personal experience with this so it's a little hard, but that the kids at one point say her whole family must have committed suicide because they can't stand her. And the truth is one of her own sons did.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

IZRAEL: That's awful.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, that's terrible.

MARTIN: They did and it is awful. The question though, I think is what should happen now? What should happen now? And...

IZRAEL: I think it's tough. But A-Train, let's get you first in here, Arsalan.

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, not only do I think the kids should be suspended, I think that they should volunteer in a nursing home four a year and have to scrub every bus in the school district with a toothbrush. I mean I think that this was, you know, obviously unconscionable. It shows that bullying is truly an epidemic, it always has been and now it's sort of coming into the forefront of our zeitgeist. We obviously saw that It Get's Better Campaign, you know, targeting young gay and lesbian youth, you know, who are the victims of bullying many times. And now with this latest incident, we see that bullying really knows no age or racial demographics, you know, that older people can be bullied, younger people can be bullied, black people can be bullied, white people can be bullied and it's just something that has to have a zero-tolerance policy everywhere.

IZRAEL: You know, this is...

MARTIN: I have to tell you that those kids seem like a Benetton ad. I mean the fact is the kids - I mean from what I could see there was no particular group involved. This was, it was like the kids seemed to be...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: ...of every demographic, if you get my meaning.

IZRAEL: This...

MARTIN: They were all - Jimi?

IZRAEL: This to me was kind of like gonzo bullying. I mean this is like you're pushing the envelope here, you know, because kids bully kids. Now I wrote a piece for the Lexington Herald Leader, which I kind of, you know, I didn't affirm bullying but I just said, you know, bullying, I mean bullying is a part of life and you have to know how to handle bullies in this life. And I don't think people should bully, but I think we should teach our children how to handle bullying.

That said, I also more so in the video than anything, I saw like a failure of parenting 'cause I mean 'cause obviously these kids didn't wake up today and say hey, I'm going to go out and do something bugged out. You know, these kids had what my grandmother might call bad parenting. You know, they didn't have no home training.

MARTIN: Well, I don't know. I don't know.

IZRAEL: You know, they didn't have no home training.

LOYOLA: I don't know about that.

MARTIN: Mario, I don't know about that either. We don't know anything about their parents.

IZRAEL: OK. Go ahead. Mario, go ahead.

MARTIN: I mean the parents who...

LOYOLA: Yeah.

MARTIN: I mean the parents who we've seen interviewed have been completely horrified by this.

LOYOLA: Yeah.

IZRAEL: Well, where do they get this from?

MARTIN: I don't...

IZRAEL: Where did they get it from? They got it from Snoop. It's Snoop Dogg's fault, right? It's Ludacris.

LOYOLA: Because they're kids.

MARTIN: I don't know. Mario, jump in. What do you have to say?

LOYOLA: Yeah. I was going to say kids that age are sadistic. They've always been sadistic. Kids that age like setting insects on fire and, you know, and kicking people when they're down and making fun of everybody that they think, you know, that's downtrodden. And I think what's missing here; I mean that's why we've always had corporal punishment up until the last several decades. I mean this case for me screams out for corporal punishment. I don't know - kids are always going to be this way and I don't think it's a failure of parenting. I think their parents are probably horrified. And you have to have discipline in school otherwise kids run rampant. That's what happens.

IZRAEL: So the real solution is to grab a piece of wood and whack these kids on the behind, right?

MARTIN: Well, what you think should happen? You never answered that question, Jimi. What do you think should happen? Scrub...

IZRAEL: What I did say is that it's tough. And I'm sure that the school has some kind of policy in place where, you know, no bullying, no harsh language and obviously they should be suspended. But there's not a lot else that can happen. You know, they didn't break any laws. They certainly broke some moral laws. But at the end of the day, like I said, I don't care, as a parent I'm looking at the situation and I'm seeing a problem with the parenting because my son, my daughters would never behave like that. Well maybe...

MARTIN: Well...

IZRAEL: Well...

MARTIN: I don't know. I don't know. Jimi, kids do a lot of stuff when parents aren't around.

IZRAEL: Tell me about it.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I mean that's one of the enduring lessons of being a parent is you don't know everything. I mean I'm not justifying any of this. I don't know. Jeff Yang, you want a piece of this?...

YANG: Yeah.

MARTIN: You're a dad also, right?

YANG: I am a dad and I have two kids, two boys. I mean that's probably an important dimension there, right? You know, one eight-year-old and one four-year-old and both of them have both kind of been bullied and been bullies - to a certain extent. And one of the things which strikes me here is that there's a dimension which hasn't been talked about as much. The reason why these kids did this, clearly, it seems to me, was to record it and put it on YouTube.

MARTIN: Yeah.

YANG: That this was like a stunt on their part. I think that it's not just about the bullying factor. It's about the sort of social media status, you know, attempt at jocking in order to, you know, be more extreme, to be more cool, to have done something really kind of, you know, off the wall and extreme. And I think that's actually something that's got to be talked about within the context of the discussion, that there's this desire to not just do the typical - if you want to even call it that - things that boys do. But now that there's an audience that could be national - international, these kids are doing it because they want to get hits, because they want to get known, you know?

MARTIN: Yeah. Interesting. But I'll just close this by quoting that well-known philosopher Lady Gaga, who said that the bully and the bullied are often the same.

IZRAEL: Mmm.

MARTIN: And so one and the same. And so I think that there's a lot more to learn here. But on a positive note, you know that somebody set up a website to send the lady on vacation, saying she needed a break. It's raised hundreds of thousands of dollars so far...

IFTIKHAR: Great.

MARTIN: ...which, you know, small donations. Anyway, you know, so there is something, something in the universe that's positive about this.

If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Mario Loyola and blogger Jeff Yang.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Well, maybe she'll make it to Vegas in her new Lamborghini and bully the blackjack player like she really - because she deserves a vacation.

Well, anyway, there's been a lot happening lately when it comes to so-called minorities in the U.S. We have what I call DREAM Act Light. And a new study that shows that it's not Latinos that are coming to the U.S. in droves, it's Asians.

IFTIKHAR: You know, there's been such an interesting week in the whole question of who is in the United States, who we are as Americans and pointing out that this Pew Research study, which we talked about earlier in the week on the program, pointed out that Asian-Americans have surpassed Hispanics as the nation's fastest growing racial group. They're the highest earning and best educated racial group in the country.

MARTIN: Also this week, you see both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama making major outreach to the Latino voters through their national elected officials who are having a conference here. So I just wanted to ask, you know, which of these events do you think is most important and meaningful this week? And Arsalan, you can start if you want.

IFTIKHAR: Well, I think both of them, you know, obviously with President Obama's announcement last Friday on deferred action, which essentially would, you know, grant a temporary reprieve from deportation for people who were brought to the country, you know, between the ages of 16 and 30, had been here for five years, no criminal record, a high school GED or military service, you know, it's a big step. You know, and I think that, you know, what's interesting is how it's being, you know, cynically cast as a political ploy. But what most people don't know is that deferred action doesn't grant permanent immigration status in the U.S. And essentially, you know, it doesn't turn, it's not a pathway to citizenship.

On the flipside - really quickly - you know, on the Asian-American study by Pew, what's really interesting is, you know, for so long the racial minority demographics in America have always talked about white, black and Latino. And now we're seeing, you know, Asian-Americans and I'm an Asian-American, you know, people have this monolithic view of us but, you know, we have people from Jeremy Lin in the NBA, to Aziz Ansari, the comedian and, you know, it shows that we should be talked about with the same political clout as other minority groups in America.

MARTIN: Mario, what do you think? What jumps out for you this week?

LOYOLA: Well, and I think that it would be a great thing if the views of Asian-Americans are talked about a lot more among other things because they believe, 69 percent of Asian-Americans in the Pew study believe that hard work equals success, which is a much higher number than, you know, 58 percent for the general population and even lower numbers for other minority groups. And that's a great thing because that means it's not a natural constituency for the dependency state that Obama and others are trying to create in the United States, which is a great thing. Gets us back to, you know, limited government and self-reliance as models for a good society....

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, even though they're still...

MARTIN: Yeah. Right. Well, speaking of which...

YANG: Two-thirds of Asian-Americans voted for Obama.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Yeah. Right. Two thirds of Asian-Americans did vote for Obama. Thank you, Jeff, for...

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Well played.

MARTIN: And, but I don't know, Mario, you know that Mitt Romney is making a bid for Latinos in his major speech to this National Association of Latino Elected Officials. Did he make any headway there?

LOYOLA: Well, I think that the Republican Party has to lose its image as being a culturally anti-immigrant and xenophobic party. I think that that's a big barrier to appealing to Hispanics. But if candidates like Romney, you know, people like Jeb Bush and the party leaders like that that do make that appeal and that do come across well for Latinos, if they can get over that cultural barrier, then the message is, which is one of opportunity and family tradition and stuff like that, is one that is actually very naturally appealing to Latinos. So I think that headway can be made. I think that the immigration debates of 2006 and since then have been very unfortunate. They've, you know, the Republican Party has lost all of the headway that it had made by the 2004 election under Bush's very pro-immigrant stance and so...

MARTIN: Can Jeff get the last word in?

YANG: Sure. Thank you. I think what's really interesting is that both these things really, to some degree, are about erasing this line between, you know, America and other to a certain extent - Americans and others. And you look at the Dream Act, I mean people who have served in the military especially, like fought for this country, represented, there's nothing conscionable about the idea that these people cannot stay here, cannot be a part of this country and this is a small but important step in that direction.

As far as the Pew study, I mean this is the first major study to even focus on the Asian-American community in this kind of depth and rigor, and, you know, while there are problems with the study, I think there's some controversy right now. There are a lot of people in the community who said, you know, this thing kind of doesn't go deep enough, doesn't sort of present the issues that many Asian-Americans on the lower end of the economic spectrum are still dealing with. I think this is an important step in the right direction as far as just erasing some of the veil of ignorance. And, you know, I think what Arsalan said is totally right. I mean we're both Asian-American. We come from very different places, and we're both here and belong here.

MARTIN: OK. You sure do.

Jeff Yang is a columnist with The Wall Street Journal Online and a pop and politics correspondent for NPR member station WNYC, with us from New York. Mario Loyola is director of the Center for 10th Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. That's a think tank focused on the impact of federal policy on states, also a columnist for the conservative outlet National Review, with us from member station KUT in Austin. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, author and founder of themuslimguy.com, here in Washington, D.C., along with who else? Jimi, Izrael, writer and culture critic, also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College.

Gentlemen, thank you all so much.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

YANG: Thank you.

LOYOLA: Ciao, ciao.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

LOYOLA: Stay cool.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

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