I spanked my child only one time.  It took me about a week to get over it.  He was 2 or 3 at the time and he started to run out into the middle of the street. I rationalized that this was a life or death situation and he was too young to have a rational discussion about this.  He had to learn not to do this if he were to survive and he had to learn the simple equation that running into the street was a no-no, that it was associated with pain. I was reminded of this with the media coverage and the viral video of the Baltimore mother who was seen hitting her teenage son for throwing rocks at the police during the Baltimore protests. Many praised the mother’s actions in hitting her teenage son.  It showed a parent taking charge and disciplining here son when he took actions that were in their eyes “bad.” Some may have seen it as proof that for black boys harsh discipline and violence was necessary to keep them in line. Further interviews revealed that her concern was not so much about protecting property, respecting police authority, or not participating in illegal and frowned upon acts.  Her major concern was as mine had been: keeping her child safe and out of danger.  In this case the danger was police violence against black youth.

This may have fueled those who feel that the problem is black youth behavior and not police over-reaction.  If black youth simply submitted to police authority even when police actions stepped over the line, they wouldn’t be beaten or killed. Those of us old enough to remember recall that this was also a criticism of the civil rights protesters of the 50’s and 60’s. If they had passively submitted to Jim Crow they wouldn’t have brought down the wrath of Bull Connor and countless other law enforcement officials. One may argue that the rock throwing and all was not done by the peaceful protesters, but by youths just caught up in the mob violence of the occasion. However this ignores the acts of police violence that set off this situation in the first place and the countless acts of the police before, during and after the protests.

Let’s get back to the so-called “Mother of the Year.” Her actions were not a support of the status quo or of ensuring the proper attitude toward society and the police.  They were an indictment and recognition of the reality of police violence.  She was doing what she thought was the only thing she could do.  She couldn’t change the police so she was getting her child away from them.
She saw it as a life or death situation, an emergency when she did not have time to argue with her son.  She did the most expedient thing; she resorted to violence to protect her child as I had done many years before.

Our society has a a major divide on whether it is acceptable to use violence to discipline your child.  Adrian Peterson, the NFL running back, was suspended for corporeally punishing his four year old child.  This mother was cheered for corporeally punishing her teenage child. There are people on either side of the argument who believe passionately in their view. Let us not allow this dispute to make us lose sight of the central issue here: Freddy Gray. The issue in the foreground here here should not be parenting and it should not be not child abuse. There is a time and place for talking about both of those things.  The real issues here are so contentious and so frightening we welcome the opportunity to pursue a sideshow. Unless we deal with the core issues the situations will keep on repeating themselves.

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