NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — It’s been five months since Manchester teen Channing Smith took his own life, dominating national headlines as the latest casualty of cyber bullying. This happened after a classmate shared sexual text messages between Smith and another boy on Snapchat, essentially outing him as bisexual.
In a matter of hours, Smith was dead, yet no one’s gotten in any trouble five months later.
As a third-degree black belt and two-time heavyweight karate champion of the world, Channing Smith’s brother owns three martial arts schools.
“Immediately after Channing had died, I had to do a lot of self-reflection on a lot of levels because for a living I teach people how to stand up and fight,” Smith said,
Channing didn’t fight. One post from a female classmate that humiliated him and outed him as bisexual was all it took.
“She released very sexually explicit messages,” Josh Smith said. “The screen shots were there and they were so sexually explicit that there would have been no denying or any misunderstanding about the nature of those messages. She got them from the boy that Channing had messed around with.”
I asked Josh Smith, “Your brother wouldn’t have killed himself if she had not put those explicit texts on snap chat for the whole world to see?” He answered, “No, he’d still be here today.”
Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott, who openly said he would not provide domestic violence protections for gay people under the law, chose not to prosecute anyone in Channing Smith’s death saying in a written statement, “I have determined that there is not probable cause to believe that any crimes have been committed in this tragic situation.”
FOX 17 News confirmed Northcott consulted with the State Attorney General, but the AG says “ultimately the charging decision is up to him.”
I called D.A. Northcott, asking him to explain to the public his decision in the Channing Smith case. Northcott did not respond, keeping a lower profile after a large contingent of attorneys sued to have him removed from office after his comments on LGBTQ rights.
Currently, Tennessee doesn’t have a criminal law dealing with cyber bullying. So, I went to the State Capitol to ask the lieutenant governor if we need one.
“I think we probably do and it’s something we were not aware of and we’re going to look and see if there’s a caption bill,” Lt. Governor Randy McNally answered.
I added, “When a person exchanges information, they don’t expect it to be posted on social media and 6 hours later they’re dead?”
“Right,” Lt. Governor McNally said. “Thank you for bringing that up.”
Josh Smith said because his brother’s cyber bullying was an isolated, one-time incident, there was no pattern that may have fit current laws.
“It was an isolated incident and you needed to show a pattern of this happening and that’s it’s been documented or maybe they told a teacher counselor law enforcement etc,” he said.
Smith says the time span between when the fellow student posted Channing’s private sexually explicit text exchange with another boy and the time he took his life was only about six to eight hours.
It’s something Tyler Clementi’s mom is working to change in Washington with the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act. The New Jersey teen killed himself after being outed online.
I talked to his mom on FaceTime, who said we need some fixes in the law to better address this.
“We need programs and awareness, but we also need to have a clear boundary and the law is that clear boundary and when you step over this, there are consequences and you need to know this against the law,” Clementi said.
Tennessee Congressmen Steve Cohen and Jim Cooper are co-sponsors of the Tyler Clementi Act in Washington.
“Our modern laws have not caught up with technology,” Smith said. “So, there needs to be some direct connection to people and their actions.”
Smith can’t get his brother back, but he plans to spend the rest of his life fighting for change.
In honor of his brother, Josh started the #JusticeForChanning organization, using public speaking and social media to change behavior and teach young people how just one post can change someone’s life forever. Here is the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/justiceforchanning/.