By Ed Brock
Daryl Gray stood up after his sentencing in Clayton County Juvenile Court and, with a single tear running down his cheek, declared that he was not a criminal.
Gray, 13, said he has been and continues to be the victim of bullying at school and was just fighting back when he stabbed another student in the face with a pencil during a March 9 class. Gray was found guilty of aggravated assault last month and on Wednesday Juvenile Court Judge Leslie Gresham found him to be a delinquent child, gave him probation and ordered him to pay over $300 in restitution to the victim.
"Just because I was trying to defend myself they want to say I'm guilty," Gray said. "I feel like I'm going to continue to be abused at school and nobody's going to help me."
Gray's mother Jeanette Gray and his lawyer Audrey Johnson stood by his side and said they were very unhappy with Gresham's sentence.
"He is not a child," Jeanette Gray said. "It should never have gotten to this court."
"The message is conflicting for children," Johnson said. "They're being taught that they can't fight back."
Daryl Gray said that for almost two years now he has been subject to physical and verbal abuse at Pointe South Middle School in Jonesboro. The children call him gay and every day somebody wants to pick a fight with him. It has come to a point where he no longer wants to go to school.
"They call me white, they call me everything," Gray said. "They even say things about my mother."
But the mother of the 13-year-old boy who Gray attacked said her son has suffered, too. His face is permanently scarred and the injury from the pencil required nine stitches, the mother said.
Recently when she was helping her son with his homework she had a pencil in her hand, the mother said.
"He just shouted out ?Get that pencil away from my face,'" the mother said. "I just wish that kids could go to school and be educated without going through all this stuff."
On the day of the fight, Daryl Gray said, another student began instigating the fight and at one point the victim came over and started telling Daryl that he wanted to fight him. The teacher told the student to go back to his seat, but instead the boy sat next to Daryl and kept telling him he wanted to fight, Daryl said.
"I got up and walked away, then he punched me," Daryl said.
Jeanette Gray said she's done everything she can to get school officials to stop the bullying but all they have done is transfer him to another class.
"His first day in that class some kid he didn't even know came up and hit him on the back of the head. He came home with a headache," Gray said.
And she said that the bullying against her son continued even to the day before the hearing and seemed to be made worse by his appearance in a newspaper article regarding his plight.
"He said a couple of kids started picking on him saying you're gay anyway, now you're going to jail," Gray said.
Gray said she filed a request with the school board on April 27 requesting that her son be transferred to another school but Clayton County Schools Assistant Superintendent for Area 3 Linda Tanner said she had not seen the request.
"We will assist her in any way," Tanner said.
Tanner said that school counselors go into the classrooms at the beginning of the year and talk to the students about what kind of behavior is not tolerated. Teachers and students are also told to report any instance of bullying to administrators.
But Tanner also said students who are being attacked by bullies are only allowed to restrain their attacker or ask for help from a teacher.
"Students cannot fight back," Tanner said. "Violence is not the answer to bullying."
During Wednesday's hearing Johnson called several witnesses to testify about Daryl Gray's character.
"Daryl is a fun child. He has a sense of humor," said Gloria Fuentes who met Daryl through a Spanish class at the Grays' church.
The Grays are Jehovah's Witnesses and Fuentes said Daryl loved to talk to people about the Bible.
Also as part of Daryl's sentencing he will be required to complete 16 days of community service, but Gresham said that since he is active in his church the work he does there would be applied to his meeting that requirement.
Gresham also required Daryl to join the juvenile court's family orientation counseling program, but said she was hoping to find some program in the county that dealt more specifically with coping with bullying. However, neither Assistant District Attorney Christopher Montgomery nor Johnson were able to find such a program in the county.
"That's a huge problem," Johnson said.
Daryl will also have to join the Awesome Inc. mentoring program. Because Daryl was 12 years old when the incident occurred the charges against him could not be considered a "designated felony" in which he could have been subject to a five-year incarceration.
He could have been detained for up to two years, but Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske said that, in general, the nature and circumstances of the incident are considered in the disposition of juvenile cases. Judges have the discretion to consider whether a child is the victim of bullying when they attack another student, even if that child uses more than reasonable force and is therefore still technically unable to claim self-defense.
"In many cases the child doesn't have to go to restrictive custody," Teske said.
Daryl Gray said he wants to be either a video game designer or an engineer later in life, and that's one thing that helps him deal with the abuse he faces every day.
"I just think about the things I will make when I grow up," Gray said.