By DR. STACEY PATTON
First, there’s the headline: Paul Adams, Black Belt, Allegedly Beat 6-Year-Old Nephew To Death With Belt.
Then a picture of an African-American man, vacant-eyed, with long dreadlocks, a mustache and goatee.
An ordinary-looking man. Who was caring for his 6-year-old nephew. Who, after they took a martial arts class together, set a timer and gave the boy three minutes to prepare his clothes for school the next day. And who, when the boy didn’t make the three-minute deadline, allegedly beat him to death death—not with a belt, as the headline states—but with his hands and feet.
The beating with a belt was bad enough. Where—and why—did the uncle cross the line between life and death?
What caused Adams to snap?
What was the spark that turned anger into homicidal rage?
This tragedy prompts us to look beyond the specifics of this case to grapple with the larger and more complex question about what caused Paul Adams to go from disciplinarian to abuser to murder suspect.
What makes a parent or caregiver snap, move from meting out discipline into the insanity zone, where a child’s life is suddenly in danger because of the adult’s rage?
Reading this story, I thought about the time my adoptive mother beat me for nearly 20 minutes with an extension cord. She was full of such rage that was sparked, not by my little child infraction, but her own unaddressed issues. She kept whipping me so hard on my face and head that I got to the point where I couldn’t feel anything any more. I couldn’t hear anything except her grunting, breathing hard, and the cord crashing down on my head.
At one point I could smell my own flesh burning from the cord. I started to accept, even welcome, the opportunity to die and escape this torture. When the beating was done, I staggered to my feet with blood in my eye and my face on fire. She looked at me, her eyes widened, and said “oh my god.” She couldn’t believe the damage that she had caused. I really don’t think that she realized in the midst of the beating that she had lost control like that.
With the wisdom of adulthood, I am able to see my adoptive mother as the victim of trauma. I don’t know what her trauma might have been, but as the recipient of her physical, mental, emotional and verbal abuse, I am well aware of the results. What form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) might she have had to rain so much torture down on a tiny young girl?
It’s too easy to shake our heads at this latest tragedy, to condemn and sit in judgment of Paul Adams, and tsk tsk about the heartbreak of the situation. We need to go beyond the surface and really examine the possibility of his own untreated trauma—perhaps stemming from his own childhood beatings—that sent him into a trance of rage and hatred so profound that the vulnerable young life with which he was entrusted was snuffed out in a volcano of rage.
If we never examine the TRUE reasons behind this level of homicidal child abuse, we can never hope to identify solutions. If we merely punish the adults, or turn a blind eye, or continue to joke (especially in the African-American community) about the “value” and “necessity” of “whuppin’ that ass,” then we are contributing directly to this nightmarish cycle.
I wonder if parents who are inclined to use physical discipline might not be propelled by their own unresolved trauma, grief and unchecked rage. And when that rage takes over, otherwise seemingly “normal” adults move from inflicting pain to asserting dominance to the unthinkable.
How slippery is that slope?
We need to know much, much more about the point at which a person snaps, loses all perspective, and is taken over by the process of beating a small, innocent human being who does not have the capacity to threaten them or cause them harm. Imagine this six-year-old boy, paralyzed by fear that he won’t make his uncle’s deadline, perhaps confused about how to successfully complete the assignment, his brain stymied by how to survive.
This suggests that he knew of his uncle’s potential for violence and abuse—perhaps he had been a victim before. The act of setting the timer and setting the boy up to fail at a ridiculous “assignment” suggests that Paul Adams has significant unresolved issues…
Read the rest of Stacey Patton’s piece at Spare The Kids.
Dr. Stacey Patton is an adoptee, child abuse survivor and former foster child turned children’s advocate, journalist, historian, college professor, and motivational speaker. Patton is the author of That Mean Old Yesterday – A Memoir. She has written for The New York Times,Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Newsday and The Crisis Magazine. She blogs at Spare The Kids.
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