A couple of years ago I was working in my living room in Jersey City when I heard the repeated sound of someone being hit in the hallway outside my apartment door. The muffled moaning of a child could be heard between each concussive blow.

I opened my door to find a woman standing over a giant man-child cowering on the floor with both arms braced over his head in a futile attempt to avoid the blows. The woman was beating him on the head with the heel of her shoe. The boy was whimpering, “Mommy, stop hitting me.” I raised my voice and asked what was going on.

She hit him three more times and then turned to me and said, “I’m disciplining my child the Jamaican way. You stay out of it.” The boy looked at me with pleading in his eyes. She went back to beating him. I walked into the hallway and put myself between the woman and her son.

“This is America,” I said in a deep and menacing tone. “We don’t beat our children here.” The woman quickly spun around, put her shoe back on and tromped up the stairs.

She called back over her shoulder like one would command a dog, “Come.” The man-child gathered himself up and wiped tears from his cheeks and clambered up the stairs behind her. I called 9/11 to report the beating.

In 10 minutes an ambulance showed up. Two medics rang my bell. I showed them the giant pool of spit on the floor the woman had beaten from the head of her son. The medics told me they could only act if there was blood. They could go up to her apartment and break down the door and take the kid with them to the hospital — if there was blood.

The woman came down the stairs and asked if the ambulance was for her. I told her the ambulance was for her son and to send him down so he could get checked out. She glowered at me and said, “I was disciplining my son. You have no idea what it’s like for a Black boy out there. He will respect me. I am his mother. He does what I say or there are consequences. He will not be like the other trash on the street.

I will not allow it.” “I understand,” I told her, “but you can’t get your way by hitting him. You have to find another way to reach him.” “You all can go,” she said to the medics. “My son isn’t going anywhere. And you?” She hissed at me, “You don’t tell me how to raise my son.” She turned on her heel and was gone again.

The medics were antsy to leave but, because this was a 911 call, the police had to arrive at the scene first and then dismiss them. They called dispatch to get an update on when the police would show up. Three minutes later the man-child came down the stairs carrying a bag of empty soda cans for the recycling bin. He tentatively came over to us and said he was fine and we should all go home.

I asked him how old he was. “Eleven.” The kid was at least six feet tall and over two hundred pounds. He was a giant of a man with a child’s mentality. He inched his way over to his pool of spit on the floor and stepped in it and expertly spread it over into the runner fibers so it would dry faster and disappear.

“I did the wrong thing,” he continued by rote, “My mom was just disciplining me.” When he scratched his head you could see hundreds of little pink scars pocking his brown forearms.

They were evidence of previous beatings. You only get that kind of defensive scarring when you’re on the floor with your arms protecting your head. One medic asked the kid if he was bleeding. The man-child shook his head. The other medic noticed the harvest of scars on the boy’s forearms as the child sauntered back upstairs without dropping off his cans in the recycling bin.

“You saw his arms,” I said to the medic. “He’s been beaten multiple times.” “Blood,” the medic sighed. “We need to see blood to do anything.” “The move with the spit was slick,” the other medic said. “Yeah,” his partner answered, “His mother told him to do it.” The three of us waited an hour for the police to arrive in an ancient, white, unmarked car. Both cops were working undercover and were dressed in shabby street clothes.

Their eyes were bright and alert and gave away their true identities. They were not happy to be called here. “No blood.” The medic held out a paper for the cops to sign. One cop scribbled on the paper and, in a blur, both medics were back in the ambulance and gone up the street. The other cop looked at me and shrugged. “Okay, so?” I explained. The cops nodded and said they’d take care of it and tell the mother if they had to come back she would go to jail.

They couldn’t do anything else because, even though I witnessed the beating… there was no blood. The cops raced up four flights of stairs and I never heard from them again. Later that day my landlord knocked on my door and thanked me for caring enough to call 911 but, he said, if anything like that ever happened again I was to call him and not 911.

I told my landlord I could not do that because I taught graduate classes in Public Health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and I urged my students to care and to speak up and to be involved and to be proactive in the health and in the well-being of people. To turn my back on a beating would make me a hypocrite. “Ugh,” groaned my landlord.

“Call 911 but then call me, too.” I agreed and he left to find the mother.

The next day I was getting the mail and the man-child descended the stairs holding the same bag of soda cans for recycling. I approached him and asked for his name. He gave it to me and I provided mine. I asked him if he was okay. He nodded. I told him if he ever needed help or if he was scared or if he just needed a place to get away for awhile he could always knock on my door and I would always help him. I saw him smile for the first time.

He went back upstairs with the bag of cans. A day later he, and his mother, moved out.

35 Comments

  1. What a horrible way to grow up. My heart aches for that boy. I admit that I was spanked as a child, but those were few and far between especially at 11 years old. Only one of those spankings to this day I believe was undeserved, but I never had to live in fear of being beaten.
    Just as I’ve heard so many times: “We have to have a license to drive, but anyone can be a parent.” It’s just scary.

  2. I’m honestly not sure how to respond to this other than that I’m not really surprised and again it makes me disgusted at many people’s idea of ‘parenting.’ Thank you for sharing that story, you did what probably many people wouldn’t do. For some reason the movie Monster’s Ball came to mind.

  3. A very sad tale. So sad that right after you offered him a refuge, they moved out. I have had the experience of seeing black eyes of children in violin lessons and calling child protective services. Children are defenceless and it is up to the adults outside of the family to do something about it.

  4. Carla — It is scary what’s happening. It has been pretty well proven through extended research studies in the past 10 years that any kind of violence — hitting, slapping, and punching — of children only teaches them to try to control things with muscle and violence. Screaming at a child can punch just as hard as a fist. Reasoning with children on their level is a much more effective means of parenting than paddling.
    Robin — Thanks for the Trackback from your site! It is hard to take. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’ve never seen someone attacked like that so close up before. I was most disappointed in my landlord — who didn’t want any trouble. I understand the urge to keep these things quiet, but sometimes attention and sunshine are the best ways to get rid of dark secrets so they lose their power.
    suzanne — I was disappointed they moved out. The young man was sweet and kind even though he had a brute of a mother. I understand her impulse to teach him respect and manners but leading by example is better than leveling with a switch.

  5. I need to give some props to my boyfriend who firmly believes in reasoning with a child rather than any physical means. He said once his daughter (very young at the time around 3 or so) opened up some packets of soy sauce and sprayed them all over the living room. I won’t get into the mother’s reaction but he felt that just screaming at her wouldn’t help anything in the long run. He took her aside and reasoned with her. He explained that now instead of playing they had to spend a long time cleaning everything up, etc. It takes a LOT of patience to be a parent. I once posted a list of questions to read before being a parent (a joke) but my boyfriend said they were more true than anyone would like to believe.
    No problem on the trackback…did you see the question from my mother-in-law and my post about it?

  6. Hi Robin !
    Big cheers for your boyfriend! I’m sure his daughter appreciates his approach to parenting. 🙂
    Yes, I saw the post you mention and I your response was sound and reasonable. You can’t be selfish if you want to have kids because once they’re born your life belongs to them and not you. If you have wants and needs and desires, weigh it all carefully against whatever freedoms you might lose in your life by bringing new life into the world.

  7. Hi Carla!
    Thanks for the compliment on the header images. There are 20 of them in a random rotation. You have to SHIFT REFRESH to get a new one. 🙂 Sometimes you get a new one… not always… for some reason. I’m working on the code to see if I can get the images to load a little faster…
    K2 is slowly coming along with a few modifications. I have a new CONTACT form page. Works really well. Clean and effective. It is also in early Beta form so the base K2 code will get leaner and faster in time.
    As you can see by my database timer at the bottom of each page, I’m going forward full force with the site enhancement (up from 12 to 54 database calls on the main page) and Network Solutions’ database will either catch up with me or not! :mrgreen:

  8. Sad, many parents do not know the difference in whipping their child and beating them. Of course what you described was a beating, I fail to understand any parent who thinks they have the right to beat their child.
    I have never witness such an event, so rightly I have no idea what I would do. But you did the right thing, I can only hope that I would too.
    All children are not created equal, reasoning with all children does not work, for some it takes the whipping to get their attention.
    But judging from the children I see at our local Wal-Marts, most parents never discipline their children in any form or fashion outside of saying, if you do that again your going to really get it, the trouble with them, their children have heard that hundreds of times and they know they are not going to really get it, so they continue to do as they please.
    I do know of one couple that uses this tactic, both their daughter and younger son are completely out of control, I hate to see how they will be when the become teenagers.
    My father most of the time set me down and gave me a talking to, it seemed to work with me, I hated it. But I knew the option of a whipping was on the table, thought he never used it.
    I use the same method with my daughter, it worked with her. She is now 35 and has made comments about it, saying I would have rather had the whipping and got it over with instead of having to set there and listen to you.
    But, those in our modern day times that want to take the option of whipping away from all parents, know nothing about being a good parent and raising good children.
    May God Bless,
    Jerry

  9. Hi Jerry —
    Gosh, I’m not sure how to respond to your comment. When and how are you drawing the line between children who deserved to be whipped and those who deserve being bored-to-death by lecture?
    I do thank you for taking the time to share you point-of-view and I’m sorry if I am not entirely following you!

  10. Wow! I applaud your effort to get involved. I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to speak directly to her, although I’m sure I would have called the police or dept of family services.
    We’re ‘talkers’, too. So were my parents. I just don’t believe that violence, in any form, is a solution to any problem, especially between two people. And, I don’t believe it’s a good way to teach your children any lesson besides ‘I am stronger than you’.

  11. Hi Maureen —
    I’m surprised how many “in person” friends in New Jersey and New York were surprised that I called 911. It was the necessary thing to do. I called on my cellphone — which has a 646 NYC area code — and I was in Jersey City, a 201 area code. I reached 911 in New York City who took my report and then they had to transfer me to Jersey City 911. I had to repeat my report and then get transferred to medical dispatch where I had to repeat the whole thing over again. It took like five minutes to get my story into the system for a response. I’m glad I wasn’t calling in a house fire! 🙂
    I’m with you on talking it out. I had a hand raised to me as a child in the name of “discipline” and it did not work. It made for hard feelings and repressed anger. It was precisely what you mention as the “I’m bigger and stronger than you so shut up” method of non-parenting.

  12. Hello Dave!
    Thanks for sharing that beautiful story. It is a touching read and incredibly smart and appropriate. Your uncle was wise.
    The weather here is not bad! It rained from 9pm last night to Noon today. It was a steady rain, but not a storm. Now it’s cold and drizzly but still not bad! The rain comes in jumps. We’re in a down time now. 20 minutes and it’ll be raining again…

  13. David, thank you for being the man you are! Standing up for that child was such an unselfish and couragious thing to do. I only wish that the outcome could have been better.
    This really does go a long way to proving that police and other authorities are no longer here to “serve and protect” but to see to things after the fact.
    This story brings up a lot of emotions from my childhood, things that have caused me to not have kids of my own for fear of what I might become. Others in my family, and my wife’s family, can’t understand why at the age of 36, and after 16 years of marriage, we still do not have kids. The fact is we are both scared as we both went through much trauma as kids and do not want to become anything like those that did the horrific things to us.
    Violence is a replicatable cycle, a cycle for the weak minded. I hope that this young man may break away from it before it is too late. I do wish that he could have stayed and made a friend of you, one who could have helped break the cycle.
    You did an incredibly brave and right thing David.
    Cheers,
    Eban

  14. David, thank you for being the man you are! Standing up for that child was such an unselfish and couragious thing to do. I only wish that the outcome could have been better.
    This really does go a long way to proving that police and other authorities are no longer here to “serve and protect” but to see to things after the fact.
    This story brings up a lot of emotions from my childhood, things that have caused me to not have kids of my own for fear of what I might become. Others in my family, and my wife’s family, can’t understand why at the age of 36, and after 16 years of marriage, we still do not have kids. The fact is we are both scared as we both went through much trauma as kids and do not want to become anything like those that did the horrific things to us.
    Violence is a replicatable cycle, a cycle for the weak minded. I hope that this young man may break away from it before it is too late. I do wish that he could have stayed and made a friend of you, one who could have helped break the cycle.
    You did an incredibly brave and right thing David.
    Cheers,
    Eban

  15. Hi Eban —
    It is always fantastic to hear from you. Your writing is strong and effective. The police told me they would go all the way with the woman if I wanted to press it, but they said it wouldn’t amount to anything because there was no blood and it would only waste my time because just them showing up on a domestic abuse call was enough to put her behavior “on the record” and if she got caught doing anything similar in the future she’d be in tough shape. I acquiesced to their experience.
    I completely understand your rationale for living your own life and not giving up your dreams because of your past. Sometimes breaking the cycle means busting a generation and I admire your guts to do it because you know what is right for you.
    I, too, have hopes for the young man. I ease into that story with my students by listening and analyzing Suzanne Vega’s fine song “Luka” first. I give the background for the inspiration for that song and then I lunge into my story. It is an effective and touching lesson for me and, I’m told, for my students, too. 🙂
    Be well, my friend!

  16. Hi Eban —
    It is always fantastic to hear from you. Your writing is strong and effective. The police told me they would go all the way with the woman if I wanted to press it, but they said it wouldn’t amount to anything because there was no blood and it would only waste my time because just them showing up on a domestic abuse call was enough to put her behavior “on the record” and if she got caught doing anything similar in the future she’d be in tough shape. I acquiesced to their experience.
    I completely understand your rationale for living your own life and not giving up your dreams because of your past. Sometimes breaking the cycle means busting a generation and I admire your guts to do it because you know what is right for you.
    I, too, have hopes for the young man. I ease into that story with my students by listening and analyzing Suzanne Vega’s fine song “Luka” first. I give the background for the inspiration for that song and then I lunge into my story. It is an effective and touching lesson for me and, I’m told, for my students, too. 🙂
    Be well, my friend!

  17. Very courageous, David.
    I did not realize that the laws protecting children from abuse and neglect vary from state to state. I don’t mean to intellectualize the pain of the circumstances in your story. My way of dealing is to share a story that might help others. Here in California, we call upon an agency called Child Protective Services (CPS), who by state law is required to investigate all claims of even suspected abuse or neglect.
    Headed by Medical Social Workers, the CPS team not only interviews, but also coordinates an investigation with law enforcement and a Pediatric Specialty Team who provides a pretty thorough history and physical examination. Not that the system is even close to perfect, but if there is enough evidence, the court system will place an endangered child with emergency foster care, a group home, or even a hospitalization, in extreme cases.
    Many years ago, as a medical student, I recall helping out in the process of the medical evaluation of (often, sadly) young children who were physically abused by family/caregivers. Some of the social workers, I warmly recall as virtual saints, acting with compassion, wisdom and kindness in truly horrifying circumstances. The lead social worker was a profound role model as a person who moved with bravery and compassion.
    Very similar to the situation you paint for us, I remember a lot of misinformation, confusion, denial, anger and blame in the process from my little corner of reality. One of the skills that the lead social worker taught us, was to act and to work with bravery and compassion. Bravery to look at the painful evidence, and to not turn away– The day would go by so much better in denial, for us who don’t live with abuse, to simply turn away and deny its existence.
    Here is a link which gives information lines for most states and information where to go for help, if we are confronted by the reality of an abused child.
    http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/index.htm
    Just knowing that there are skilled individuals with knowledge and resources, can empower us to act and to make a difference.

  18. Very courageous, David.
    I did not realize that the laws protecting children from abuse and neglect vary from state to state. I don’t mean to intellectualize the pain of the circumstances in your story. My way of dealing is to share a story that might help others. Here in California, we call upon an agency called Child Protective Services (CPS), who by state law is required to investigate all claims of even suspected abuse or neglect.
    Headed by Medical Social Workers, the CPS team not only interviews, but also coordinates an investigation with law enforcement and a Pediatric Specialty Team who provides a pretty thorough history and physical examination. Not that the system is even close to perfect, but if there is enough evidence, the court system will place an endangered child with emergency foster care, a group home, or even a hospitalization, in extreme cases.
    Many years ago, as a medical student, I recall helping out in the process of the medical evaluation of (often, sadly) young children who were physically abused by family/caregivers. Some of the social workers, I warmly recall as virtual saints, acting with compassion, wisdom and kindness in truly horrifying circumstances. The lead social worker was a profound role model as a person who moved with bravery and compassion.
    Very similar to the situation you paint for us, I remember a lot of misinformation, confusion, denial, anger and blame in the process from my little corner of reality. One of the skills that the lead social worker taught us, was to act and to work with bravery and compassion. Bravery to look at the painful evidence, and to not turn away– The day would go by so much better in denial, for us who don’t live with abuse, to simply turn away and deny its existence.
    Here is a link which gives information lines for most states and information where to go for help, if we are confronted by the reality of an abused child.
    http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/index.htm
    Just knowing that there are skilled individuals with knowledge and resources, can empower us to act and to make a difference.

  19. Hi Jeff!
    Thank you for the warm and informative story. Your comment will help a lot of people and your experience is enlightening in a wonderful way.
    DYFS is the New Jersey agency that handles these kinds of cases and they have had a lot of problems in the past with children dying in the system or under the supervision of their program and historic changes were set in place in “The Child Welfare Reform Plan” in 2004:
    http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/cwrp/index.htm
    My experience pre-dates that reform and the police felt they could best handle the situation by talking to the mother “off-the-record” to scare her in the same way she was terrorizing her son. The system in place back then, the police told me, wouldn’t do anything to punish her or help her son in any way. Back then power pushed power and the police felt they could muscle the woman into behaving. If a formal report had been filed, I was told, they would not have been able to do anything but follow a procedure that would sadly lead to nowhere.

  20. Hi Jeff!
    Thank you for the warm and informative story. Your comment will help a lot of people and your experience is enlightening in a wonderful way.
    DYFS is the New Jersey agency that handles these kinds of cases and they have had a lot of problems in the past with children dying in the system or under the supervision of their program and historic changes were set in place in “The Child Welfare Reform Plan” in 2004:
    http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/cwrp/index.htm
    My experience pre-dates that reform and the police felt they could best handle the situation by talking to the mother “off-the-record” to scare her in the same way she was terrorizing her son. The system in place back then, the police told me, wouldn’t do anything to punish her or help her son in any way. Back then power pushed power and the police felt they could muscle the woman into behaving. If a formal report had been filed, I was told, they would not have been able to do anything but follow a procedure that would sadly lead to nowhere.

  21. I dont think its right to beat your children, but it was something all to familiar to me growning up. The generations prior to mine (im 20ish) used corperal punishment all the time. In this case however, Im glad you called. Its too bad they moved out. I dont think the “man-child” has ever had real friends before you showed some concern for him.

  22. I dont think its right to beat your children, but it was something all to familiar to me growning up. The generations prior to mine (im 20ish) used corperal punishment all the time. In this case however, Im glad you called. Its too bad they moved out. I dont think the “man-child” has ever had real friends before you showed some concern for him.

  23. Hi trench!
    Thanks for the comment. I, too, was raised with raised hands ready to come down on you for the slightest misbehavior. I think it’s kind of a Midwestern mindset that you make kids mind by hitting them. I hope reason and love and respect will replace the tendency to come down hard on children who are unable to protect themselves from something bigger and meaner than them and I include spanking in that mandate.

  24. Hi trench!
    Thanks for the comment. I, too, was raised with raised hands ready to come down on you for the slightest misbehavior. I think it’s kind of a Midwestern mindset that you make kids mind by hitting them. I hope reason and love and respect will replace the tendency to come down hard on children who are unable to protect themselves from something bigger and meaner than them and I include spanking in that mandate.

  25. Wow, That just told the story of my childhood! I was subjected to beatings till I was 17. Though the last 3 years of these I was considered rebelious because I fought back. My head is filled with memories of bullsh*t. Not a day goes by that at some point I just breakdown in tears. She would stand over me with a strap and threaten me with a beating if I wouldnt beat up the other neighdorhood kids when they would disrespect her. I am 45 f*cking years old now, divorced 4 times in a chemical dependency program for the 6th time in 17 years. I have had more than 30 jobs since I was 19 and my life is a disaster. Today I am unemployable and cant find work. I am so fortunate to be a veteran and have at the very least medical care. I am not a criminal, othr than dui, and pi and I am a very kind loving person and I even try to understand her and forgive her, but if she ever raises her hand at me I can make no guarentees. One of these days she will need me to change her diapers and I will probable do so just to give her the respect she demanded so much she had to beat me for it. Anyway I was in the grocery store a few years ago and a man was beating his kid in the produce isle, I snapped because this was far more than a spanking and I beat the shit out of this bastard and left him laying in his own pool of spit and blood. Hooray to the store management and all the citizens that did not call the law to even report me. Laws are passed everyday limiting our american experience but little will be done to these parents. They should be made to pay for the years of psychotherapy that their victoms require.
    Bryan
    See someone beat their kid……..do the kid a favor…….beat their f*ckin *SS !
    [Comment edited by David W. Boles for content.]

  26. Wow, That just told the story of my childhood! I was subjected to beatings till I was 17. Though the last 3 years of these I was considered rebelious because I fought back. My head is filled with memories of bullsh*t. Not a day goes by that at some point I just breakdown in tears. She would stand over me with a strap and threaten me with a beating if I wouldnt beat up the other neighdorhood kids when they would disrespect her. I am 45 f*cking years old now, divorced 4 times in a chemical dependency program for the 6th time in 17 years. I have had more than 30 jobs since I was 19 and my life is a disaster. Today I am unemployable and cant find work. I am so fortunate to be a veteran and have at the very least medical care. I am not a criminal, othr than dui, and pi and I am a very kind loving person and I even try to understand her and forgive her, but if she ever raises her hand at me I can make no guarentees. One of these days she will need me to change her diapers and I will probable do so just to give her the respect she demanded so much she had to beat me for it. Anyway I was in the grocery store a few years ago and a man was beating his kid in the produce isle, I snapped because this was far more than a spanking and I beat the shit out of this bastard and left him laying in his own pool of spit and blood. Hooray to the store management and all the citizens that did not call the law to even report me. Laws are passed everyday limiting our american experience but little will be done to these parents. They should be made to pay for the years of psychotherapy that their victoms require.
    Bryan
    See someone beat their kid……..do the kid a favor…….beat their f*ckin *SS !
    [Comment edited by David W. Boles for content.]