Discipline or Abuse: Viral Videos of Spankings Expose a Once Private Matter
Are these videos saving children or encouraging parents?
Adults whipping children used to be considered a private matter. But technology has opened the world’s eyes and forced a discussion about the line between discipline and abuse.
A discussion we desperately need to have.
Two recent cases of videotaped beatings have brought corporal punishment into the public sphere in a dramatic way, interspersed with the dynamics of race, gender, class, age and privilege.
In September, Devery Broox, 25, posted a video on WorldStarHipHop.com of himself whipping a seven-year-old boy he mentored. Broox’s justification for whipping and verbally abusing the boy, humiliating him with a bad haircut and subjecting him to a punishing workout, is that he was trying to keep him from prison. He said the boy’s grandmother had called him to punish the boy for acting up at school.
Broox posted the video online with scrolling statistics about the number of black men in prison, and titles for each step of the process of disciplining a child: Interrogation, Removal of SWAG, Beat Dat ASS!!!, and at the end: Job Well Done.
A viewer alerted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the local police department identified Broox and the boy from the video, and Broox was booked into jail and charged with one count of felony child abuse. He has since posted bond.
The comment threads on various sites where the video was posted overwhelmingly supported Broox, saying black kids need to be whipped to keep them out of the penal system. Some viewers even accused the police and social services as being racist for arresting Broox. These kinds of reactions support the contention that African Americans are more likely to not just embrace corporal punishment, but view it as essential to rearing children responsibly. Since this videotaped beating of a young black boy did not provoke an outcry among black Americans, should we be surprised that it did not garner national media attention and public outcry?
Contrast Broox’s case with that of William Adams, a family law judge in Texas whose disabled daughter secretly videotaped him savagely beating and verbally berating her when she was 16. The daughter, Hillary Adams, now 23, recently posted the video on YouTube, where it got more than 2 million hits and prompted a police investigation.
In contrast to the comments for Broox’s video, many of the comments on the Adams family beating harshly criticized the father for going way too far.
Ironically, Judge Adams handles child abuse cases. In response to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services request that he be removed from such cases during the investigation, he was taken off such cases for two weeks. Last week, the Huffington Post reported that Adams won’t face charges because, although police feel it involved a criminal offense and might normally charge him, too much time has passed.
We can’t look at these two cases—a young black man beating and berating his young mentee, and a middle-aged white judge doing the same to his teen daughter—without racism slapping us in the face. The five-year statue of limitations on the Adams case, and authorities’ claims that the judge might otherwise have faced charges feels a bit too convenient. This is not just a white man, but one with power in the judicial system, in the very area in which he might have been charged.
While we must address the fact that a white man got away with something for which a black man was jailed, we must first address the false and persistently pervasive belief that whipping black children keeps them on the right side of the law. In fact, the opposite may be true. For example, the Baltimore, Md. police department, reports that 84 percent of prison inmates were abused as children.
Let’s get to the heart of the matter: why are children being abused in the name of “discipline?” When does “spanking” become abuse? Why is there such a disparity in the way spankings are viewed in black and white communities? And why are children in our society not entitled to the same right to be free from physical assault as adults are?
With our nation’s schools hyper-focused on addressing bullying, national awareness of adult-on-adult domestic violence viewed as unacceptable, and the growing numbers of black children entering the foster care system because of child abuse, why does the black community have such a tragic double standard for the youngest and most vulnerable among us?
While the specifics—and outcomes—of the Broox and Adams cases vary, the underlying dynamic is terrifyingly similar: physical, emotional and verbal abuse being heaped upon children in the name of “straightening them out.”
Maybe it’s not the children who are bent.
Dr. Stacey Patton is the author of That Mean Old Yesterday, a memoir exploring the historical roots of corporal punishment in African-American families. She is also a journalist, child advocate and creator of SpareTheKids.com, an online portal designed to teach alternatives to physical discipline of children.