A Florida teen was charged with a misdemeanor for breaking a classmate's nose and damaging his eye socket because he thought the boy was gay for having unusual hobbies.
Jaiden Muniz-Walls doesn't identify as gay, but he said another teen has targeted him for hateful abuse since the 15-year-old started attending Pensacola Catholic High School five weeks ago, reported the Pensacola News Journal.
“I feel like since we moved here, everyone looked at me like, 'Oh my God you’re different, get away from us’ and I feel like that’s just their way to protect themselves,” Jaiden said.
The teen, who dresses well and doesn't use social media, wonders if hobbies like Civil Air Patrol and break dancing make him a target, especially as a new student.
The other student was charged with misdemeanor battery for allegedly shoving Jaiden against a wall the morning of Sept. 26 and then attacking the teen in a classroom before a lesson started.
Jaiden suffered a broken nose and eye socket damage in the attack, which his mother believes should be prosecuted as a hate crime.
"I’ve had people say to me that maybe (the other student) felt like his manhood was being compromised by being friends with someone so, quote-unquote, gay, and the only reason they said they wouldn’t up it to a hate crime is because my son said he doesn’t identify as being gay," said his mother, Diana Muniz-Walls.
"But I’m feeling like if you assault someone because you think they’re gay," she added, "then you may as well be assaulting them because they are gay.”
Florida does not prosecute hate crimes as their own category but uses evidence of a hateful motive to enhance penalties at sentencing.
“While we do charge hate crimes in some cases, oftentimes we do not charge that way because it’s difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt," said Greg Marcille, chief assistant state attorney. "Sometimes we’ll have cases where inappropriate terms were used, but it’s not necessarily the basis for the commission of the crime."
Jaiden wants to return to school, but his mother remains concerned that the school didn't call her after the attack and wasn't responsive to her questions about continuing her son's schoolwork while he was out.
"I don’t know that (they’re) going to keep him safe," Muniz-Walls said. "I can’t just send him in there, I can’t. I don’t want him looking over his shoulder."
The school's principal confirmed an investigation remained open in the altercation, and bullying could result in suspension or expulsion.
Muniz-Walls said she hopes the incident doesn't crush her son's spirit.
“I hope that (you know) this isn’t about you and you can still be who you are and be quirky and unique and it doesn’t matter if they love you,” she told the boy.