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Don't punish dad for defending daughter

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: YouTube video shows dad yelling at kids who bullied his daughter on bus
  • World upside down when dad arrested for doing what adults there should have done, he says
  • Dad regrets actions; says kids have rights too. Writer: other adults had responsibilities
  • Navarrette: Charges should be dropped, dad should lecture lax parents about parenting

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist, an NPR commentator and a regular contributor to CNN.com.

San Diego, California (CNN) -- Free James Willie Jones!

The world is upside down. The act of children bullying the vulnerable has become so common that many adults no longer seem to notice or care, much less do anything to stop it. But when a video clip on YouTube shows a father defending his daughter from bullies, some people go ballistic.

What used to be considered unacceptable is now thought to be normal, and what used to be normal is now unacceptable.

Jones is facing two misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and disturbing a school function. He was released from jail after posting a $2,000 bond.

It's all because, three weeks ago, the 42-year-old father from Lake Mary, Florida, stormed onto a school bus and -- in a screed captured on video -- threatened the bus driver and some of the students with bodily harm.

"Now everybody sit down; sit down," Jones says on the tape. And then, addressing his daughter: "Show me which one. Show me which one." The girl points in the direction of a group of students, which Jones then approaches. He told them: "This is my daughter, and I will kill the [expletive] who fought her." He also threatened the bus driver.

Jones obviously behaved badly. But he was trying to do the right thing. He didn't board that bus to bully students as some have suggested. This isn't a story about a grown man terrorizing kids for the fun of it.

He was there to defend and protect his 13-year-old daughter, who had been terrorized by real bullies who -- according to what Jones told deputies -- teased his daughter, spat on her, poked her, pushed her, smacked her on the back of her head, twisted her ear and shouted rude comments at her.

They even threw a liquid-filled condom at another girl, and fragments hit Jones' daughter. According to the sheriff's report, this abuse eventually drove the girl, who has cerebral palsy, to have an emotional breakdown and threaten suicide.

Meanwhile, the officials at Greenwood Lakes Middle School have taken a break from PE and PTA to do a little CYA. School spokeswoman Regina Murray Klaers told The Associated Press in an e-mail that Jones did not share with school administrators any concerns about his daughter being bullied. Jones' wife, Deborah McFadden-Jones, told the AP that she left messages with a school guidance counselor but that she never heard back.

As the father told Kiran Chetry, co-host of CNN's "American Morning," when he learned of the abuse, he acted on instinct.

"She finally opened up and told me what was going on," Jones said. "And from there, you know, being a dad just loving my daughter ... and just loving all my kids, you know. ... [At] that point, my heart broke when I [saw] her standing there ... [she] wasn't going to get on the bus crying. And a dad is a dad. And I was going to be her protector that day."

That's what this was: A father protecting his daughter. And if that little girl couldn't rely on her dad to protect her, just whom in this world is she supposed to rely on?

At an emotional news conference this week, Jones acknowledged that his behavior was wrong and apologized for it.

Video: Dad who stormed bus apologizes

"If you see the tape," he said, "I feel like I was backed up against the wall as a parent. I just didn't know where else to go."

Yet, Jones said, parents should not follow his example.

"We definitely don't want to promote that," he said. "We don't want vigilantes going on buses, threatening kids, because kids have rights too."

Oh yeah, as Americans, we have rights. We know all about our rights. We assert our rights. We don't think twice about hiring lawyers to defend our rights. But what we have trouble with is the other half of the social contract: responsibility.

That includes the responsibility to treat one another with dignity and respect, and not prey on those who can't defend themselves. And the responsibility of parents to raise good kids who don't get their jollies from causing classmates mental and emotional anguish. And the responsibility of school officials to take seriously the idea that they act in loco parentis (in place of parents) and that our children's safety rests in their hands.

Jones' attorney has said she is hoping to get the charges against him dropped. She has even offered to have her client give speeches against bullying as a form of community service.

The attorney is half right. The charges in this case should be dropped -- immediately. And I'd like to see charges filed against the teenage bullies. In an ideal world, we'd also charge their parents for bungling the job of raising these kids.

But Jones shouldn't waste his time giving speeches about bullying. Instead, he should lecture audiences about something that is really important to our society and that a lot of people don't know how to do but that he seems pretty good at: parenting.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.