It was the eve of San Diego Comic-Con, and retired naval officer Chris Cecil was doing what he loves best: dressing up as a Stormtrooper for the 501st Legion and volunteering at a charity event.
Cecil was working the final leg of the Course of the Force event on Tuesday, July 16. The Course of the Force is a 500-mile relay race from Skywalker Ranch in San Francisco all the way down to San Diego, and all the money raised goes to benefit Make-A-Wish for children facing life-threatening medical conditions. Instead of a relay baton, Course participants carry a lightsaber, and many don Star Wars costumes. The Course of the Force includes most of the major beaches of the coast, and the last leg runs from Pacific Beach to the Hard Rock Hotel, where there is a huge reception and celebration. This is planned to coincide with kickoff of San Diego-Comic-Con.
“There were a lot of Star Wars costumers at the Hard Rock Hotel, and we were taking pictures with fans,” Cecil said. “I noticed these three teenagers watching us from across the street. I honestly didn’t think much of it. We had plenty of security around us, including people in soft costumes monitoring the area.”
The three skateboarders came over. Two of them pulled up on either side of Cecil, and the third stepped in front of him with a video camera. “I thought to myself, oh, okay, they just want a picture. That’s great, and I got ready to pose with them.”
Cecil was wearing his Stormtrooper armor, including the helmet (known as a “bucket” to members of the 501st). As I learned earlier this year when the 501st made my little girl a custom set of armor, it is very difficult to move inside the costume. Sitting is really not possible, which is why the Troopers are always standing at events. Additionally, when the bucket is on, vision is limited. You have no peripheral vision and can only see what is straight in front of you.
“I felt something pushing on my leg, and I twisted to see what it was,” Cecil recalled. “Then I turned back around and offered one of the skateboarders the chance to hold my blaster, because people sometimes like to hold the blasters for photos. I didn’t see his hand in front of me and then I felt a huge push in my chest. So my helmet came up and I couldn’t see well.” Staggering under the force of the push, Cecil said that he spent the next few seconds “doing everything I could not to fall down, because if you fall in these costumes, it’s really hard to get up.”
The two teens on either side of Cecil disappeared instantly, but he noticed that the third guy with the camera looked shocked, as if he hadn’t been expecting that. A bunch of witnesses immediately came over to Cecil to see if he was okay, and in all the commotion the third guy took off too.
“For about twenty minutes, I was steaming,” Cecil admitted, “but I realized that I was there to do an event, that this was about the Make-A-Wish kids, and I decided to calm down and let it go.” He went to the event and reassured people that everything was okay. “The event was amazing,” Chris enthused, “especially the kids. They were so great, you should have seen them!”
When Cecil went home, his wife was upset, but she felt better when she talked with him and saw he was okay. They have four children ranging from age 9 to 18, and bullying issues have affected the family before. “I have a daughter with Asperger’s, and a son adopted from China who is limb-different; he is missing the right arm below the elbow, so we have encountered bullying,” Cecil told me, “and I see it all the time with my students.” Cecil teaches Junior ROTC to high school students near LA. “But,” he continued, “I never expected it to happen to me as an adult.”
Two days after the incident, a friend of Cecil’s emailed him a link to a video showing the whole thing. Apparently, the cameraman had uploaded it the night it happened, with mocking comments about how Cecil was "cow tipped" and on Twitter bragging how Cecil was "murked.”
“That pretty much wiped out my belief that the third guy was innocent,” Cecil commented. “He obviously thought it was funny. When I saw it on the video, I got really upset all over again. My 18-year-old son saw it, and he was extremely worked up by it, which is unlike him, since he is usually a very passive kid. He downloaded it onto his computer, which is a good thing, because after some of my buddies started commenting on the video, the cameraman took it down from YouTube.”
This is where it gets very interesting, from my point of view as an anti-bullying advocate. Cecil’s buddies were able to quickly identify the guy who had uploaded the video, because he used the same name on YouTube, Twitter, and all his social media, and they researched him.
“And it was this 16-year-old kid, the cameraman was. We haven’t identified the other two guys, including the one who shoved me,” Cecil said. “You know, I’m retired Navy, and I have a bunch of friends in San Diego, and they started getting very angry about this. I didn’t want them to go hunting down these kids. They did something stupid, but I don’t want their lives to be ruined by it. We are not going to sue them; we are not going to keep them from going to college. I’d rather go through the proper channels, so we sent the video to the police and we are having a detective look into it. I DO want the kids to know there are consequences for their actions, but I do not want people turning around and taking it into their own hands.”
Cecil grasps a key issue with the Internet – the rapidity with which the attackers can become the attacked when people with understandable outrage get carried away in their response. Being a good bystander does not mean banding together to torment the bully. It means sticking up for the person who was victimized and reporting the attack through the proper channels. Cecil’s friends immediately respected his viewpoint- this is why I SO love the 501st Legion – and they are doing everything they can to support Cecil as he works to resolve this.
“I don’t want people to stereotype the skateboarders,” Cecil told me earnestly. “Some of my students are skateboarders, and they are great kids. What this kid did really shows how ignorant he is the fact that the Internet is permanent. It gives us insight into the teenage mind – the way these kids are addicted to social media and they put everything out there without thinking of the consequences. Because he started boasting about what he did on YouTube and Twitter, now we know who he is.”
I am hoping that this case is considered as a candidate for restorative justice, which is an excellent option for helping offenders repair the harm done to the victim. What happened to Cecil is important to all of us for several reasons:
- It shows that people who act like bullies do target adults as well as kids.
- It demonstrates the very real consequences of sharing aggressive behaviors on social media.
- It shows that a victim need not seek vigilante revenge in order to find resolution.
Buckets off to Chris Cecil for being a stand-up guy in the face of senseless cruelty. May the Force Be With Him as he moves forward.
Check out Carrie's award-winning book Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.
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