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Truth or Consequences

the dangers of false accusations & assumptions

By Morgan Rhianna BlandPublished 5 months ago 12 min read
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Truth or Consequences
Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

(Content warning: mentions of bullying and violence)

A new day dawns. As I’m sitting down to breakfast, I turn on my phone and open Facebook. I mindlessly scroll, and it’s not long until I see it. Some article about some celebrity being canceled for some transgression that happened some time ago. It’s the same thing every morning: the one-sided narrative, the half-truths, the cruel assumptions. If the article itself doesn’t get me riled up, the comments section does. It’s an endless wall of people condemning the article’s subject with death threats or other creative punishments that far outweigh the accusation itself. Or else, they condemn anyone who dares support the accused to the same.

I want to give them a piece of my mind, to call out their hypocrisy, to point out that their actions are better than the ones they condemn, but I know what will happen if I do. I’ll become the next target of their verbal firing squad.

So I close the app, set my phone aside, and return to my breakfast. Only now I’m so angry, I’m starting to feel nauseous… too much so to eat.

Why the visceral reaction? Because I was once the target of such assumptions and false accusations, long before cancel culture became a term in our lexicon.

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It was November 18, 2005. I was three days away from turning seventeen, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released that day. Naturally, I’d planned ahead and bought tickets well in advance! My dad and I were going to an evening showing, the kickoff to a fun weekend of birthday celebrations, but first I had to get through the school day.

So far, It was another humdrum day of high school. Spanish class first thing in the morning, then English, then the lunch period. For the lunchtime class, I had Drivers’ Ed (which turned out to be useless due to a disability which would prevent me from driving). Half the semester, when you were behind the wheel or learning in the classroom, Drivers’ Ed was a fun and informative class. The other half, when it was other people’s turn behind the wheel, Drivers’ Ed was a glorified study hall. The Drivers’ Ed room was closed on driving days; if it wasn’t your turn to drive, you went to some other classroom for the period.

The Drivers’ Ed kids were expected to sit quietly in the back of whichever classroom they were assigned and read or study. As far as classrooms I could’ve been assigned went, I lucked out. I was assigned to Mrs. Slaton*, my creative writing teacher from last year. That particular day, I sat at Mrs. Slaton’s desk (which she let me use so I wouldn’t be disturbed by her class), working on a report for the world’s most inept English teacher. The assignment: research a female historical figure and write a paper on her. I’d chosen the pirate Anne Bonny - a choice I had to defend to the idiot English teacher because she thought Anne Bonny was a fictional character!

The report was due in a little over a week, after the Thanksgiving break. I wanted to get as much of it done as I could before I left school that day so I could enjoy the weekend without worrying about it! I was making some pretty good headway when a knock at the door distracted me. One of the school resource officers, affectionately nicknamed Officer Craig* because his last name was long and ridiculously hard to pronounce, stuck his head in and asked to speak with Mrs. Slaton. I saw them whispering in the doorway but couldn’t hear their conversation. A few minutes later, Mrs. Slaton came back and said the police needed to search our belongings. We were to pack up our stuff and line up in the hall, leaving our belongings behind.

In the two and a half years I’d attended that high school, nothing like that had ever happened before! I thought it was weird, but I wasn’t afraid because I had nothing to hide. On my way out the door, I asked Mrs. Slaton what exactly the police were looking for. “I think it’s drugs,” she said. But she was wrong.

****************************

Eventually my turn came, and I went into the classroom across the hall where Mr. Dorsey* was waiting. This school had one main principal and four assistants, to whom students were assigned according to last name. Mr. Dorsey got all the kids with names starting with A-F, so I was stuck with the pompous windbag whose body looked every bit as overblown as his position.

The encounter seemed normal at first, with greetings and small talk exchanged. Then things took a turn. Mr. Dorsey said, “We’ve received reports that you’re going to come to school wearing all red one day and shoot people.”

WHAT?!

All I could do was stare at him in disbelief! That accusation was so surreal, I thought it was a joke until he repeated himself. Realizing he was serious, I told him the truth; I never planned anything like that and never said I did! Mr. Dorsey said he believed me, and I took his word for it. A few minutes later, Officer Craig came in with my backpack. He didn’t find anything incriminating (duh!), so he and Mr. Dorsey had no choice but to let me go to lunch.

I wasn’t stupid enough to show it, but I was furious! Mr. Dorsey and Officer Craig had known me for over two years - long enough to know that I would never do anything like that!

Granted, I wasn’t what most people would consider a “good kid”. I was a bullied loner with a gothic fashion sense and an interest in horror. I had a disability that prevented me from playing sports and a sexual orientation that prevented me from dating. I didn’t go to church, friends’ houses, parties, school dances, or any of the other places one might expect of a nearly seventeen-year-old girl. While I didn’t try to cause trouble, I wasn’t the type to blindly follow rules that were unfair or inefficient - and I wasn’t afraid to call out authority figures who enacted them. All of these things got me blacklisted by a school administration that demanded conformity, and even if I’d wanted it, conformity wasn’t an option.

I may not be good, but I’m not evil enough to commit murder, never was and never will be! Did I hate my bullies? Yes. Did I think they deserved punishment for their cruelty? Yes. But did mass murder ever cross my mind as an option? Absolutely not! Even at age seventeen, I knew that violence against my bullies would only let them win. The bullies would become martyrs, and I would become a monster. And in a school where everyone already saw me as monstrous for my looks and eccentricities, the last thing I wanted to do was prove them right!

More importantly, I understood that murder would punish the wrong people. My bullies wouldn’t have to feel pain or remorse for the way they treated me; they would be dead. The ones who would feel pain would be the family and friends left behind, people who hadn’t done anything to me.

It was bad enough that Mr. Dorsey and Officer Craig, two authority figures I’d trusted until then, never hesitated to believe the worst of me, but they lied about it! The drug bust story was just a ruse so I wouldn’t catch on that I was the target of the search.

I thought my trial in the kangaroo court of public opinion was over when Mr. Dorsey dismissed me. Little did I know, the nightmare was just starting.

****************************

When my mom picked me up that afternoon, she had a bizarre story to tell. While she waited for me, Officer Craig had locked his keys in the police cruiser. As she watched him fish his keys out, she overheard him say to another officer, “I don’t want to do it. If I do, I’ll have to write a report.”

She had no idea what he was talking about - nor that I was about to tell her an even more bizarre story! I wasn’t afraid to tell her what had happened because I knew she wouldn’t believe the lies about me. The story took half the car ride home, and when I was done, my mom was just as angry as I was!

When we pulled into the driveway, there was already a police cruiser waiting for us. Officer Craig and another officer - a tall blond guy who never took his sunglasses off - were talking to my dad. So this was the thing Officer Craig didn’t want to do… but that was no consolation as the policemen’s attention turned to me. This is it, I’m going to be arrested based on a rumor, I thought.

“What are you doing? I thought you believed me!” I said to Officer Craig.

My mom ordered me into the house before I got an answer. While I wanted to stick around to hear how Officer Craig justified lying to me, I knew from her tone not to argue with her. I watched from the window until the police cruiser left, and my parents came inside. To this day, I don’t know what they said to convince the police that I wasn’t dangerous!

Not long after that, it was time for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but I couldn’t enjoy the movie. I was afraid I’d be accosted by the police again, afraid that everyone I passed was looking at me as if they knew what I was accused of and believed it!

The fear didn’t go away when I returned to school the following Monday. Everywhere I went, there were death glares and whispers. Everybody knew about the accusations, but nobody said anything about it… until two weeks later.

***************************

Fast forward to December 2. That day, I was supposed to read my report on Anne Bonny aloud in English. I’d worked hard and was moderately excited about it, but I never got the chance. I’d barely been at school an hour when Mr. Dorsey and Officer Craig pulled me out of first period Spanish class. I saw them talking in the hall with the teacher, Mrs. Rosser*, and I knew what was coming, even before Mrs. Rosser pulled me aside and said they needed to see me.

“Okay, what’s going on?” were the first words out of my mouth as I joined Mr. Dorsey and Officer Craig in the hall.

They wouldn’t speak until we were in Mr. Dorsey’s office. Their answer confirmed what I already suspected. “We’re still hearing that you plan to shoot people on the day you wear red to school,” Mr. Dorsey said.

He scrutinized my outfit, of which the only red parts were a bracelet and a heart graphic on my skirt, and added, “I’m only seeing a little bit of red here.”

That time, I didn’t try to protest my innocence. I knew they wouldn’t believe me if I did, no matter how much they may say otherwise. I let the evidence - or more accurately, lack thereof - speak for itself. Mr. Dorsey asked his secretary to be a witness while Officer Craig did a pat-down search; he found nothing. Then he searched my backpack and likewise found nothing.

An epiphany came to me during the search. As long as I stayed at that school, this - the random searches, the glares and whispers, the false accusations - would never end! Whoever started the rumor wasn’t going to let it go until I was either dead or jailed.

When Mr. Dorsey dismissed me, I didn’t go straight back to class. First I went to the payphone in the lobby to call my mom. “Mom, it happened again,” I said as soon as she picked up.

She understood what I meant and replied, “I’ll be right down.”

She arrived within fifteen minutes, and I waited in the lobby while she talked to the principals. Agonizing minutes passed until my mom finally came back. She signed me out of school and took me home. Later that day, I said, “Mom, transfer me. Homeschool me. Do whatever you have to, but I’m not going back to that school!”

And I never did.

****************************

So began the grueling month-long process of finding another school. My family couldn’t afford private school, and the district wouldn’t approve a transfer to another public school. All of the homeschool programs in the area were run by churches, and none of them wanted the weird goth girl from the atheist family. The only option was alternative school.

Alternative schools have undoubtedly changed in nearly eighteen years, but in Tennessee in 2005, “alternative school” was a euphemism for reform school. It was a punishment for all who attended, and my crime was the worst one of all: nonconformity. Whenever I did anything that the teachers considered abnormal, I was reprimanded for it. If I showed emotion, I was being “too sensitive”. If I stood up for myself to either bully or teacher, I was being “Inappropriate”. If I shared my interests with anyone, I was being “odd” or “off topic”. The teachers claimed this was to help me learn coping skills, but I suspect they meant to help themselves cope with my eccentricities by destroying them.

Even if their intentions were pure, their approach was flawed. Constant criticism and punishment didn’t make me fit in; it made me shut down. I put on a mask of stoicism and silence to protect myself from the judgment and false assumptions, always mindful that the accusation could rear its ugly head again at any given time.

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I kept up that stoicism and silence for nearly eighteen years, and part of me didn’t want to break that silence to write this chapter. I was afraid that telling my story would open me up to more false accusations and assumptions, but it’s worth the risk if my story saves even one person from being demonized the way I was!

If there’s anything good to come from my experiences, it’s that they opened my eyes to the dangers of assumptions. Knowing what I do now, I can’t in good conscience accept a one-sided narrative about anyone, be it friend, stranger, celebrity, or otherwise. I will not jump on the bandwagon to vilify someone, nor will I shame others who don’t share my views of a person. Above all, I will fight for those who have been unjustly vilified, and I will keep fighting even if it means being vilified myself!

* - all names have been changed for privacy reasons

AutobiographyMemoir
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About the Creator

Morgan Rhianna Bland

I'm an aroace brain AVM survivor from Tennessee. My illness left me unable to live a normal life with a normal job, so I write stories to earn money.

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