The recent jailing of Schaquana Spears, of Baton Rouge, for whipping three of her children who allegedly had broken into a neighbor’s house is heartbreaking and scary. Did the injuries the boys suffered warrant an arrest? Did she do the right thing? Should there have been some other solution short of jailing Spears and removing her children?
The public’s verdict, based on social media and conversations I’ve had, is heavily on the side of the 30-year-old single mother of six children.
This is a serious conversation. When does love and discipline go too far?
The incident brought back memories from my childhood and my community.
One crazy summer day when I was 5 or 6 years old, I was brought home — only across two backyards — after drinking an ice-cold long-neck Jax beer. I had badgered some mechanics to give me a beer. They gave it to me to teach me a lesson.
My grandmother gathered me up on the back porch, held me up by my feet and spanked me with a belt. She later walked over and gave the mechanics a few choice words, although now I think she understood their intentions.
On another occasion, I lied to a grocery store owner and charged soft drinks, candy and other items on my grandmother’s credit account. She told my dad, who came to the house and whipped my naked body with a large leather belt. I never did that again.
By today’s standards, both would be considered abuse. But the method of punishment used on me was not out of the norm. This is how the children in my neighborhood were raised. There are all sorts of studies now that say corporal punishment can lead to emotional problems with children that carry on into their adulthood. And those studies say black and low-income parents are more apt than most other groups to use corporal punishment.
All I know is the adults of my childhood feared the consequences of us being dealt with by law enforcement of that era. Black lives really didn’t matter then. Black people in my age group whom I have talked with are almost all for Spears.
My wife and I used corporal punishment on our children — however, not to the degree I received it. Not because I never thought about it.
In Spears’ case, here is a single mother attempting to raise six children. She’s working and trying to run a small catering business. Just feeding and clothing them is an enormous undertaking. Managing to keep them on the straight and narrow is even tougher.
She discovered that her sons had broken into a neighbor’s home. According to news accounts, she beat them with some sort of cord, causing visible injuries to two of the boys.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office arrested and jailed Spears, and the state Department of Children and Family Services removed all of her children.
Could the woman have been given a citation and ordered to come to court, where she could be forced to attend a parental education course? Can you imagine the stress and anger that Spears was facing when she discovered what her children had done?
Think about it. Do you think putting them in “timeout” or shaking her finger at them and saying, “Don’t do that again,” would work?
A Department of Children and Family Services representative said there is no diversion program for people like Spears. Well, this may be the time to do something new.
Now you have a mom, struggling against all odds, with an arrest and the removal of her children on her record.
That being said, there maybe some information that law enforcement and Department of Children and Family Services obtained that would warrant the actions taken. Are there some things they saw at the house or what they were told by the children that made them take their positions?
From my vantage point, minus any other cases of abuse, I agree with Spears taking the action against her children. This is a lesson, though harsh, that may be the difference in her receiving a late-night call that her sons have been arrested or killed.
Let’s hope this is a turning point for the Spears family and that it leads to some new thinking by child protection agencies on how to deal with similar situations. As a friend told me, “I would have done the same thing or worse than she did and called the police to come get me.”
Email Edward Pratt, a south Louisiana freelance writer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.