Attack on Valley Teen Inspires Jordan’s Law: Chatter or Political Progress?

LOS ANGELES

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Last December, I first covered the social media-motivated attack on a West Hills teen. Jordan Peisner was on an after-school Wendy’s run when he was jumped by another teen he had never met while the attacker’s friend snapped images on her smartphone. The attack left Jordan with a fractured skull, a blot clot in his brain and ruptured eardrum. In a flash, Jordan’s and his family’s lives were changed forever. 

Jordan’s father Ed Peisner says his son is slowly recovering. “As for the hematoma, as of the last MRI, it was 19mm but we will have another this month to check the size. Hopefully, it has shrunk. His hearing loss is permanent and that is very hard to accept.” 

What happened to the alleged assailants? 

The girl arrested and charged with conspiracy to incite a violent act was moved to LA Teen Court, says Peisner, “because the probation department felt there wasn’t enough evidence to make her charge stick so a jury of her peers -- 14- and 15-year olds -- found her not guilty. We didn’t have a voice in the matter at all. We weren’t even allowed to be there.” 

The arraignment for the teen who physically attacked Jordan will be held on April 7, shares Peisner, “but from what the D.A. told me last week at the pre-plea arraignment, he will most likely receive probation for a certain amount of time. So, my son has permanent physical damages and emotional issues while the assailant gets to pick up trash.” 

The girl who filmed the attack to post on social media wasn’t arrested, says Peisner, because “that isn’t a crime.” 

An Interview with Rep. Matt Dababneh and Sen. Henry Stern: 

Rep. Matt Dababneh (D-Encino) has introduced a bill to change that. Assembly Bill 1542 would criminalize the act of conspiring with an attacker to take video of a crime and would also add a year to the court’s sentence for a criminal felony when the attacker conspires to have that assault recorded. 

I sat down with Dababneh and Sen. Henry Stern (D-SD 27) to talk about the assembly bill, how Jordan’s attack inspired the proposed law, and the importance of addressing social media-motivated attacks. 

BCK: What were your first thoughts when hearing about Jordan Peisner’s attack? 

Dababneh: When I saw the video on Facebook, it was heartbreaking. I was sick to my stomach. This could have been a neighbor or my nephew, one of my interns. I got the sense that this was mostly younger teenagers with a desire or need to be infamous, how many “likes” they have on their profiles. They’re willing to create violence to leave their mark. 

Stern: I was outraged when this all occurred and earlier than that, this ugly knockout club trend on the web. The internet can be used as a tool for incredible good and change but also the basest tendencies and ugliness. This is an evolution of that. 

BCK: What inspired you to introduce this bill? 

Dababneh: Right away, during Jordan’s recovery, Ed took the opportunity to be an advocate. I admire that.  Instead of what could have turned into vengeance, he has been tireless. 

Stern: As the resident millennial in the senate, I feel it’s my duty to stop the abuse of these kind of tools. I think young people say more social media is better -- don’t put any impediment to its use for filming for the purpose of social media. I disagree that it’s universally good. Watching Jordan go through this and getting to know him and Ed a bit, I think they are onto something, the way the community has stood up to bullying. We all think we have bright ideas in the Capitol but the ideas really come from the community. 

BCK: Can you explain the significance of the bill? 

Dababneh: We wanted this bill to be narrow and specific. Social Media is paramount to the issue and the bigger reality. We want to make sure our streets are safe against attacks, rapes of co-eds, attacks on transgenders. We want to send a strong message that the attacker will face legal consequences. When an accomplice helped plan and was a motivator, that’s no different from being the getaway driver. 

Stern: The perpetrator (who filmed Jordan’s attack) is not currently in violation of any law. That is inexcusable and needs to be remedied. We’ve narrowly tailored the bill to exclude Good Samaritan acts but to focus on those conspiring to do acts of violence with their phones. Technology has been evolving faster than our mores and laws. We’re playing catch-up. That’s the job of government. 

BCK: What are some concerns with getting the bill passed and how have you addressed those concerns? 

Dababneh: I’ve worked with law enforcement and education leaders, the ACLU so that free speech is addressed. 

Stern: I’m trying to be Matt’s lawyer in the Senate when it gets down to legal questions. I hope to be able to be a good second man. We want bystanders and citizen activists to use camera phone for recording protests or whatever incidents they see that need to be reported to the police. The computer is a powerful tool for good. I care about civil liberties and the First Amendment -- that we not chill any of those freedoms but address premeditated and actual acts of violence. 

BCK: What’s the next step for the bill? 

Dababneh: The Bill will first go through the committee and the Assembly before going before the state Senate, hopefully by the spring. If passed, we hope the bill will be on the Governor’s desk by late spring. 

Stern: Matt is doing the heavy lifting. I don’t believe there is any major fiscal impact but we have got to get it through the Assembly and through the Senate to the Governor’s desk. 

BCK: Is there a plan to raise awareness of Jordan’s Law? 

Dababneh: We’ve been working through the media, through Op-Ed pages, as well as introducing at town hall meetings. Jordan’s attack is well-known. Educators and parents will hopefully teach accountability and responsibility. 

BCK: Any other thoughts on Jordan’s Law? 

Dababneh: We want to send a very strong message. If you think about engaging in an action like this, think twice. Think of the consequences. Life is filled with choices. In ten seconds, a young life was compromised. Consequently, for many years, Jordan faces challenges. He’s resilient but he has a blood clot, hearing loss. This has been disruptive to Jordan’s parents and his family, his friends. We are committed to this position so that anyone considering these attacks is aware of the consequences. 

Stern: Matt’s done a great job at holding off opposition and is working closely with the ACLU and other folks who care about issues. This is about showing Jordan that he is not alone and this is not just a West Hills or San Fernando Valley issue but about building a campaign on this. There are victims of these crimes all over the state. It’s a universal issue. I applaud Dababneh for having real focus. It was his idea to work with Ed and Jordan. I hope to be a good lawyer and to help him. We’ve been leaning on Cool to be Kind clubs and young people are leading here, as well as parents. Kids on the El Camino campus, at Cleveland and Reseda, there’s a ripple out from El Camino to high schools all over the Valley. Kids are talking about this. It will be interesting to see if we can translate chatter into political progress.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

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