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.
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?