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The Jewish World Review, 11 August 1999
Saving the nation's youth
By Walter Williams
OK, I'LL SAY IT. One of the best things we can do for today's youth is for adults, in positions of authority, to develop a willingness to give the hind parts of misbehaving youth appropriate attention. You say, "Williams, are you suggesting that we return to the old-fashioned, uncivilized practice of whipping children?" Yes, that is precisely what I'm suggesting.
First, let's address the issues of old-fashioned and uncivilized. During my youth -- the old-fashioned and uncivilized '40s and '50s -- parents and sometimes teachers whipped misbehaving young people. Whipping has always been one of the tools of discipline, until we allowed experts into our lives. Dr. Spock and other "experts" told us we shouldn't whip our children.
They advised that having to whip a child was a sign of parental failure. Regardless of what the "experts" preached, the undeniable fact is the "uncivilized" practice of whipping children produced more civilized young people. Youngsters didn't use foul language to, or in the presence of, teachers and other adults. In that "uncivilized" era, assaulting a teacher or adult would have never crossed our minds. Today, foul language and teacher assaults are routine in many schools.
For some kinds of criminal behavior, I think we'd benefit from having punishment along the lines of Singapore's caning as a part of our judicial system. You say, "Williams, how cruel can you be?" Let's think about cruelty. Today, it's not uncommon for young criminals to be arrested, counseled and released to the custody of a parent 20 or 30 times before they spend one night in jail. Such a person is a very good candidate for later serving a long prison sentence or worse, facing the death penalty.
If you interviewed such a person and asked: "Thinking back to when you started your life of crime, would you have preferred a punishment such as caning, that might have set you straight, or be where you are today? I'd bet my retirement money that he'd say he wished someone had caned some sense into him. That being the case, which is more cruel: caning or allowing such a person to become a criminal?
It's difficult for parents to raise children all by themselves. Part of raising children is the environment. That environment includes other adults. During my youth, I might be doing something mischievous such as throwing stones. An adult would come over to me and ask, "Does your mother know you're out here throwing stones?" I'd reply, "No sir or no ma'am," and hoped that the matter ended there. Today, it's quite different. An adult correcting a youngster risks cursing and possibly assault. That's a sad commentary: Adults are justifiably afraid of children.
Do we Americans as parents, teachers, principals and others in positions of authority have the guts and willpower to control our youngsters? Or, are we going to play costly games such as having metal detectors at school entrances, video monitors, locked classrooms, hallway guards, teacher panic alarms and in general a jail-like atmosphere at our schools? Youngsters could be stopped very easily from bringing weapons to school.
You say: "How, Williams? What makes you smarter than the experts who haven't figured it out?" Here's my prediction: If the punishment for the first offense of bringing a weapon to school was five lashes on the butt with a cane, and the punishment was carried live on the six o'clock news, there'd be an end of weapons being brought to schools.
Children, especially boys, are born barbarians. We as parents and teachers have a mere 18 years to civilize them before foisting them off on the rest of society, and we're not doing the best job that we can.
The Boston Herald, 21 August 1999
Boys won't testify in belt beating trial
By Darrell S. Pressley
The twins of a Roxbury woman who faces more than two years in jail for strapping one of them in May are too traumatized to testify against her, according to the district attorney's office.
"They've been having nightmares," said Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Glenn Cunha yesterday during the start of the trial against Brenda Frazier, 46, in Roxbury District Court. "They're afraid of being the ones responsible for putting their mother in jail."
Frazier is charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, a belt. She admits strapping her 10-year-old son across the legs on May 7. She was arrested May 10 after the boys' father called police.
While Frazier said the strap was used to discipline the child because he was being disrespectful, the district attorney's office charges that the mother of three strapped the boy repeatedly as her boyfriend held him down.
"This case is not about spanking," Cunha said during his opening statements. "This case is about a beating."
The May strapping left welts on the boy that police observed several days later, Cunha said.
Frazier's boyfriend is charged with the same offense and will be tried after her case.
But Frazier's attorney, Rudolph Miller, said the trial is really about an ongoing custody dispute between the mother and father.
"This case isn't about child abuse," Miller said.
Frazier has denied anybody held the child down. And she said she hit him "only three or four times."
Miller said Frazier's 14-year-old boy has been in and out of trouble and she is trying to keep her 10-year-old twins from going down the same path.
One of the officers who responded to a call May 7 of a child being beaten, testified yesterday that he did not see any welts on the boy, didn't ask the mother about a beating and did not believe Frazier should be arrested.
"I looked at the boy and I didn't see any injuries," said Officer Dana Lamb.
Lamb said that the situation "did not rate an arrest" and that he did not file a report.
The child's father, Stanley Wardsworth, testified that after talking with the grandmother and the 10-year-old, he felt he should call the police.
Wardsworth said he noticed a welt on the child's legs that looked like a belt mark and was about 4 inches long and about 1 inches wide.
"His skin was clearly discolored," he said.
Wardsworth, who received custody of the twins after the incident, said he was concerned about the safety of the children.
But Miller said the issue is really about a six-year custody battle, and not the one strapping of the child when he didn't want to go to school.
The Boston Globe, 26 August 1999
Case renews spanking debate
Protesters decry conviction of mother who hit child with belt
By Joanna Weiss, Globe Staff
Ask Mary Hubert if she ever got a beating as a child, and the 71-year-old tosses back her head and howls with laughter.
"I got spankings, I got whippings, yes," the Roxbury woman said, sitting outside the Roxbury District Courthouse yesterday. It's a child-rearing tradition she has proudly carried on, and she insists it's the reason none of her 18 grandchildren has run afoul of the law.
It's a decision, she said, that rests with a parent and God - not the courts.
Hubert was one of several dozen demonstrators who marched outside the courthouse yesterday, fighting for what they say is a parental right and a religious prerogative. They were protesting the conviction of Brenda Frazier, 45, a Roxbury woman convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon for attempting to discipline her 10-year-old son with a belt.
Though small, the protest underscores the fierce ongoing debate over the value of corporal punishment. And it raised questions about the blurry boundaries between religious freedom, discipline, and child abuse.
Next month, the state Supreme Judicial Court will hear the case of Donald J. Cobble, a Woburn pastor who whipped his son's buttocks with a belt while reading to him from the Bible. After a civil investigation, the state Department of Social Services called the act abuse. Cobble was not criminally charged.
Cobble, who is appealing the finding, has said he believes corporal punishment is an act of love, and the will of God.
Wednesday's demonstrators, who represented three churches in Roxbury and Dorchester, agree with him. As they marched, they chanted slogans defending freedom of religion and held signs quoting the Bible: "He that spareth the rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him."
But state officials say religion is no excuse for the injury Frazier caused in May - a whipping that left her son with several bright welts, still visible three days later.
"This was an assault," said Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the Suffolk County prosecutor's office.
"This was a woman with a long and violent criminal history, having her boyfriend hold down a small child so she could beat his legs repeatedly with a leather belt," he said. "That's not a spanking. That's assault and battery."
After 12 hours of deliberation, a six-person jury agreed; court sources said one female juror held up the verdict for hours before relenting.
Judge Paul Leary sentenced Frazier, who spent nearly two months in prison in 1994 for larceny and assault, to two years in prison, but the punishment was suspended. Frazier must attend parenting and anger-management classes.
Yesterday, the protesters said they fear the case represents a frightening precedent, a sign that the courts will continue to meddle in the ways parents discipline their children. They passed petitions around the courthouse square, demanding the court overturn the verdict, and urging the Legislature to revamp child abuse laws.
"We are not going to allow the district attorney's office ... to prosecute any more parents and send them to jail for loving their children," said the Rev. Ivan Cutts, pastor of the Boston Church of God in Christ in Dorchester.
In a world of rampant drug abuse and violence, many protesters said, tough discipline can be an act of mercy - a way for parents to keep their children out of danger.
"You take away the right from the parent, and then you say, `Why do we have so many children in jail?"' said Telesha Mervin, 20, of Roxbury.
She said she doubted a less forceful form of punishment would work.
If a 10-year-old wants to go out at midnight, "How do you discipline him?" she asked, with a look of incredulity. "Time out?"
But using violence to teach children a lesson - particularly about avoiding violence themselves - sends a confusing message, said Joyce Strom, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Too many people cross the line into full-fledged abuse, she said.
Suffolk County prosecutor David Deakin, who heads the child abuse unit, said his office will investigate about 800 to 1,000 cases of physical or sexual child abuse this year. Typically, he said, the office prosecutes about a quarter of the cases it investigates.
Deakin said prosecutors investigate all reports of child abuse, and are more likely to bring a case if a child has wounds or suffers blows that break the skin or bones, or cause welts or bruises that last for days.
Prosecutors also look at whether a parent suspected of abuse is remorseful and willing to work with authorities, he said.
"We're not trying to say that we will prosecute parents for striking their kids, under any circumstances," he said. But "if you cause injury, you run the risk of being prosecuted."
More and more cases have been reported in recent years, he said, as the community has grown more aware of the dangers of child abuse. Frequently children report the cases themselves.
In the case of Frazier, who was going through a divorce at the time, the son told his father that he was hit with a belt, and the father called police.
Outside the courthouse yesterday, several questioned whether the father was right.
"It's so unfair that the father of this child is not as responsible as the mother," said Darnesse Carnes, 39, a single mother from Jamaica Plain, who said corporal punishment has trained her children well.
A neighbor recently told Carnes her children were so well-behaved that they were "not normal," she said. And the proud mother said she knew the reason.
"Because when they were this big," Carnes said, holding her hand knee-high, "I was kicking their behinds."
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.
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