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Court: Hazing Law Covers High School Gang

A high school gang was an "organization" within the meaning of New York state's anti-hazing law, and a prospective member of the gang may not consent to being hazed, a state appellate court has ruled.

A four-judge panel of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, the state's mid-level appeals court, upheld a juvenile delinquency finding for a student who participated in the hazing of a young man who sought to join the "Lost Boys," a gang at their high school in the New York City borough of Queens.

According to court papers, to join the gang, the unidentified teenager had to submit to a "jumping in," an activity in which gang members surrounded him and repeatedly struck him with closed fists, or kicked him in the head and ribs when he fell. The juvenile charged in this case, identified as Khalil H., was the one who recruited the victim and videotaped his beating.

A Queens County family court ruled that Khalil H. committed acts that would constitute the crimes of conspiracy and attempted hazing, and he was placed in state custody for one year. An appeal on behalf of the juvenile argued that the Lost Boys was not an organization subject to New York state's anti-hazing law.

In its Nov. 9 decision in the Matter of Khalil H., the state appellate court disagreed, saying that the Lost Boys was organized for mutual protection.

"Members met in the park to carry out the [victim's] planned initiation ceremony, held meetings, and wore flags with black and white stars, as well as stringed black and white beads, to signify their membership in the Lost Boys," the court said. "Thus, we find that the Lost Boys gang is the type of 'organization' the Legislature contemplated when it enacted [the anti-hazing statutes.]"

The court also rejected Khalil H.'s argument that the victim willingly subjected himself to the initiation ritual and thus no crime was committed.

"Often, those who are victims of hazing are, to some degree, willing to accept humiliation and physical abuse from others in order to gain social acceptance," the court said, citing court rulings in other states against allowing victim consent to be a defense to hazing. "Students willingly subject themselves to these acts to be accepted. Many times, they have no idea of how bad the hazing will be until they are put in the situation. By then, it is too late and they accept the consequences rather than lose face by backing out."

The decision also includes an interesting history of New York state's anti-hazing laws and a description of an 1894 hazing incident at Cornell University that resulted in student injuries and the death of a cook.

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