Jaime Bairaktaris: “I Saw Hatred Today”

Jaime Bairaktaris is a multi-talented, community-minded Westporter. On Monday the 2016 Staples High School graduate, current Sacred Heart University student and 2020 Connecticut Paraeducator of the Year witnessed something disturbing downtown. He writes: 

I’ve heard about hatred in our community. I’ve heard stories from friends, neighbors, social media and news sources. But I had not seen it myself.

This week, I think I saw it. It was ugly and deliberate, in the form of 3 middle school boys with their opinion to display, or partially formed frontal lobes to blame, or a sense of common respect to try to gain.

But there it was, plain as day.

I paused while tutoring another middle schooler. We watched the boys pull up a sign for a national political candidate from Jesup Green. They broke it into pieces, threw it in a trash bin, then took turns spitting on it before walking away, screaming to each other.

Spitting on it!

We were confused. So were the many other kids and adults sharing Jesup Green and Riverwalk tables. My student and I talked about respect, hatred, and why — regardless of opinion — we respect all things, and all people.

A nice day, marred.

We talked about better ways to share our own opinions, and how everyone’s opinion matters in one way or another.

Then we talked about how we never spit. Not during a pandemic, not on a sign, not at another person. Not ever.

As we talked, a group of middle school girls retrieved the sign from the trash. They placed it back on the lawn.

My student and I talked about how there are helpers everywhere. We talked about why we need to restore the good that is sometimes taken from a community, and how sometimes it is taken by people who may not realize they’re doing it — or may not care.

I wish I could have thanked those girls. Not just for putting back the sign, but for caring. For teaching us a positive lesson. And for reminding us that the majority of kids who hang out downtown do care.

But then the boys returned. They ripped the sign from the ground again, threw it onto Jesup Road, and took turns jumping on it. Then they flung it onto the middle of Jesup Green, before finally leaving.

Those boys did not care.

I wish I could have said something to my student, to everyone around us, to the girls who tried to help — something that could have made the situation better.

But I was at a loss. So I went back to our social studies. The hum of conversation and COVID-era working returned to the green.

I reported the incident to the police, so it’s on record. But I don’t know who those 3 boys are. I only know they don’t care. I don’t know their names, their families, their hobbies, their strengths, who they’ve helped in their lives, or who looks up to them.

I don’t know any good things about them. I only know that they destroyed a sign on Jesup Green.

Is this bigotry? Impulsivity? Stress? Lack of education? Too much media? Am I a snowflake? Or a Karen? Do I care too much? Did I not care enough to stop them? Is this a non-issue? Or is this a real probme.

This is not a case of “kids being kids.” The majority of those I see on their skateboards, scooters or bikes, in the deli or on the green, are energetic, loud, and — most importantly — respectful.

They’re doing what they should be doing: having fun, while learning how to make their own choices.

These boys made their choices. They chose hatred.

So I can’t help but wonder: How do we fix this?

22 responses to “Jaime Bairaktaris: “I Saw Hatred Today”

  1. Michael Mossman

    When young people see leaders on TV every day who behave rudely, when ugly, brutish groups are empowered and encouraged by public figures, thIs culture is propagated throughout our society. We can help by raising our standards and holding our elected officials to higher ethical standards and repudiating the politics of division and hatred. We can improve things by staying engaged with one another, respectfully and educating our children to get involved and stay involved. It’s like maintaining a house. It takes constant attention against decay. Like the termites, ever searching for opportunities, angry, brutish people who can’t have their way are ever searching for weakness so they can emerge. We fight this by standing together, publicly.

  2. Kristin Schneeman

    This is such a disheartening story, Jaime and Dan, especially after watching last night’s presidential debate. Children learn their behaviors, what’s considered normal and acceptable, from their parents and the other adults in their lives. These days that includes a steady stream of online influences, where it is so easy to spread vitriol without the inhibition of having to look another human being in the face. I want to hug those girls who fearlessly took action, giving the lie to the “kids will be kids” narrative. But it’s us grown-ups who have got to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring civility in our interactions, whether social or political or just on the playing field. These kids are looking to us for leadership, whether we’re political leaders or parents or police officers or tutors (thank you, Jaime!). We have to be better than this!

  3. Theresa Bairaktaris

    This is most disturbing, one to have witnessed and the other to have to read about this. We as parents should be teaching our children about respect. We are seeing so much hatred in our world, it is most concerning. We should be speaking to our children on how to turn this around. Kindness is so gratifying in so many ways. Little kindness goes far… The kids who picked that sign up & tried to replace it, is what all of us should try to do… HELP Others in ways we can. Thank you to the kids who tried to help and most importantly, didn’t engage in violence. Violence Never helps, in any manner… We pray for our kids & our community to all try to come together. Isn’t this what we all deserve

    • Rose Ann Ciuffetelli

      Good sentiments!!! Yes that is what we all deserve! That’s why people came to America –to live in freedom and peace!!!
      Thank you Theresa.

  4. A country cultivates what it honours. Q- what do you honour and what do you cultivate? money, power fame or humanity & the planet. Moral revolution happens during the most difficult times. The only important question is “where are you going?” Cynics don’t create the future. Think about it, and good luck to you.

  5. Rose Ann Ciuffetelli

    Well said!!! Only a Righteous Person who cares to know what makes The USA free will ever fix this nation. Each of “US” should read the Constitution and The Bill of Rights, that way, each will understand why this country was born and exists in freedom. Destroying what we disagree with hurts our freedom–only learning from past mistakes will keep America free.
    Thank you Jaime Bairaktaris .

  6. This should have been stopped in process and boys disciplined by authorities.
    They learned that they are unstoppable, so it will continue…on a smaller scale, but same principle as riots going on throughout our country,

  7. Linda Sugarman. Retired from 40& years in Ed

    Did you take a picture of the boys, the sign, the vandalism? For your report to the law about the lawlessness? The bullying!! The displayed aggression meant to show everyone there that they would stomp ANYONE who disagreed with them. (How do you think that our President has gotten this far already??)
    Did you not learn anything from all of the school assemblies of the last 20 years about respect?
    Did you say something when you saw something?
    Did you teach your students by your actions what they can DO? They can gather around and point and say BULLY!! VERY LOUDLY!! They can GET THE HELP OF A TRUSTED ADULT!! WERE THERE ANY AROUND?
    They can GIVE THOSE STUDENTS THE GIFT OF A TRUE/FACTUAL EXPERIENCE resulting from the SHAME of their actions in the community!! THEY can teach those boys about where their chosen road will lead them!!
    Instead you were a good person standing by doing nothing. DON’T DO THAT AGAIN!!! PLEASE!! FOR YOUR SAKE! FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR STUDENTS!!
    Be thankful!! This was your learning moment! Although you were not quite sure what you should learn, your heart was feeling wronged so you confessed your confusion to the community. That was your Valiant and Worthy GIFT to ALL OF US!!
    Your question is obviously, ‘What is now politically correct?’ Do you see what this President has done? He has made a good young man wonder about ALLOWING THESE THINGS TO HAPPEN!! (The ‘good’ Germans did the same and ended up with Aushwitz
    Unfortunately, you taught all of the students in the park to turn away. You taught them to be frightened and powerless and confused by the obvious hostility. You taught them to be afraid and to succumb.
    In short, you taught them to be the Americans that we have been, ARE BEING, God HELP US, don’t want to be when faced with the shame of our own PRESIDENT!!
    Were you worried about being a tattle-tale in Middleschool? That’s what Middleschoolers do. They worry about being bullied themselves if they speak up. It’s a problem for the young. Help them with the problem. Help yourself to expunge the guilt before it takes seed and grows.
    STAND UP! SPEAK UP! Make sure ALL involved have the soul building experience required:
    Personal power in the face of oppression.
    Shame when faced with the result of BAD DECISIONS!!
    Support from your community and support for your community when it can turn a large tide even in a small fishbowl!!
    KEEP ON>>>>>

    • Mary Schmerker

      Hi Linda, I believe that you and my mother were neighbors years ago. She was Ramona Cookman. While I like everything you said I disagree on one point. Jamie was tutoring one student in a public place. He was responsible for that student’s education and safety during the time the student was most likely paying him. Jamie did a wonderful job of careful and insightful explanation to his student. IF he had veered off to stop the other boys he could have put his student at risk in an escalating situation. In my mind Jamie acted in the most responsible manner. We are a four generation family of educators. Our younger son is a high school teacher in Texas. Thank you for your years of teaching. It is an honorable occupation and is undervalued, especially now.

  8. Insightful comments Eleanor & Linda.
    The story cites, ‘…so many other kids and ADULTS were in the area..’. I wouldn’t expect the author to confront the middle schoolers, but in a town that positions itself full of SJW’s it’s very surprising, at least to me, an ADULT did not get involved? It seems the warts are starting to show. It was inevitable. You can only keep up a façade for so long.

  9. Donald Bergmann

    A few days ago, while walking my dog in Winslow Park, I saw an altercation developing. One young man swung a fist at another, I yelled out “hey”! One man turned to me and yelled “we are fighting”. I said, “that rarely does much good”. As the fist thrower looked at me, from afar fortunately, the other young man left the scene. The event ended. Would I have yelled had there been many involved or if I saw a knife, I don’t know. I hope so.
    Don Bergmann

    • Linda Sugarman

      I hope we all would Don!!
      We would be a better, more peaceful place for it. Peace is not being quiet. Peace is being just and assured that each works to support justice for all.

  10. I thank you for writing this wonderful essay and for also trying to sow wisdom into the young person you were helping. I would also encourage you and other bystanders to feel free to speak up and say something as long as your safety isn’t in danger in the real-time . In our country we are very used to going off and complaining writing a review posting some thing online but in the moment with kindness we can speak up when we’re seeing an injustice. Especially when you were talking about middle school students did anyone observing this thing to yell, stop what are you doing? What you’re doing is illegal, that’s vandalism. You can say I’ve taken your descriptions and I plan to go to the police station to tell them about what you’re doing. We can do something in the moment. But we don’t have to be rude or nasty to try to speak up and do the right thing.

  11. The only really disturbing part of this story is that the ADULT IN THE ROOM did nothing..did not confront the boys, did not try to get names ans did not drag one or more of them to the NEARBY police station…WTF was she thinking and what was the real lesson her pupil got that day…incredible missed “say something” moment.

    • maryschmerker

      Dear Dan,
      Please see my note above. First, they were outside in a public setting. Jamie’s primary, first and most important concern was the student he was trusted to instruct and see to that student’s safety while the student was in his care. The situation could have escalated. Jamie did instruct his student. Here’s an example I witnessed about a year ago. I was on a narrow two lane road. Traffic was stopped waiting for first responders due to a serious accident. Several of us exited our cars. The car in front of us had two children in it. The driver was pacing frantically. I asked if she needed assistance. No she said. It is just that I am a trained paramedic but I can’t go to help. My primary care is the two in the car. I am employed as their Nanny. We are living in unprecedented times with so much anger and yes even hatred spewing from all levels, dare I say of our government? Again, Jamie did exactly what he was being employed to do and was also acting in the most professional way possible.

      • Thanks, Mary, for the input…perhaps you are correct….my view was that the “destroyers” were reported as youngsters, not high schoolers(therefore not “dangerous) and the pupil was not described as of an age that needed “looking after” in that way, for the brief time it would have taken to intervene. I do grant that your point is ,nothleless, a logical one. I just think I would have chosen to be “irresponsible under the same scenario.

        • Mary Schmerker

          Of course neither of us was there to accurately asses the total situation. I am truly concerned about the hatred that is so openly expressed in our current climate. I am Staples 1958 so you can guess at my age. Through out my life time I have never witnessed so much hatred expressed so openly. Yes, we had demonstrations over civil rights, there were union boycotts, and the Vietnam war riots. Yes, there was prejudice both racial and religious. But In my memory we always had a calming “voice” from the top. I would welcome an example to prove me wrong or to give me food for thought which might in turn give me hope that this will end.

          • Get rid of Trump and his mafia in DC, hatred will subside.
            BTW, I’m class of ’56, so you’re just a babe.

            • Mary Schmerker

              First you are right about Trump. Let’s hope. Second, I’ll tell my husband Charlie what you said. He’ll get a kick out of it. His High class was 1954 in Penna. not Staples. Now we should probably drop this so that Dan does not have to keep reading what we should do by e-mail or on Facebook.

  12. I’m not defending the actions or making this political – and I am an admitted hater of “yard signs” (political or otherwise) strewn all over Town. They’re trashy (IMHO). So with my bias out of the way…

    Is it actually ILLEGAL for someone to remove a sign like this from public property? I’m not disputing whether or not it is ‘sporting’ but I would love to know the actual crime.

    When I see a sign on public (as opposed to private) property, I perceive it as something akin to abandoned property. This is the rare case that I would love to hear a lawyer’s opinion!

  13. Instead of sitting back and watching something happen and writing out a long pointless letter of your inactions, be proactive and do something. This is ridiculous. You watched knowing something was wrong, unethical and bad and instead of choosing to correct the matter like a paraprofessional you repeat all the time, you instead chose to do nothing.