Black Belt Uncle Beats Nephew To Death For Not Picking Out Clothes Fast Enough—And We Ask Why

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 PostBaltimore SunNewsday and The Crisis Magazine. She blogs at Spare The Kids.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

6 Comments

  1. This is indeed heart breaking and devastating. I have had to self-check myself a couple times when my toddler gets on my last nerve and I lash out in a loud, thunderous voice and she bursts into tears. It just breaks my heart. I’ve never “whupped” her but I will pop her on the hand or bottom from time to time. I don’t want her to grow up fearful but I also can’t have her acting out and misbehaving. It’s a very thin line between discipline and going too far as in your personal experience Denene and the case of this story.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Felecia,

      Thank you so much for weighing in with your thoughts—they are much appreciated! Just a note, though: this piece was written by Dr. Stacey Patton, and the personal experience with being abuse was hers. Though my mom believed in physical discipline, she never beat me like that.

  2. This is why I don’t believe in physical discipline ATALL. Who knows when the person doling out the “discipline” will snap? And those in the black community are definitely good for saying someone needs to be “beat”.

    Just the word BEAT or BEATING should be a cue that it’s not something that you should inflict on a helpless child. Think about the physicality of an adult vs. a child in the first place, you are at least 2-4 feet taller than the child, you weigh about 100 lbs more than them, just for those reasons you are already physically intimidating to a child. Then you want to go and start hitting on them? What would it feel like if an adult that was 2-4ft taller and 100 lbs bigger than you started hitting you?

    Discipline is supposed to be about teaching, how do you teach with intimidation and violence? The word disciple comes from discipline and Christ never taught through the barbaric methods that people ascribe to in disciplining their own children.

  3. As a mother of 5 kids ages 16,13,12,10&8,and a former in home childcare provider, I’ve never believed in spanking. I agree with K. Michelle about discipline being about teaching and spanking being barbaric. If anything, you’re teaching kids how to intimidate and bully someone smaller.

  4. There is nothing wrong with appropriate discipline. According to Google’s dictionary, discipline is “The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.” In this case, this was NOT discipline. The young boy did not “disobey” his uncle and violate some virtuous principle for which he needed to be corrected. This was abuse, torture, and murder. Plain and simple.

    I bristle at the hypersensitivity that emerges from tragedies like this. A refusal to use corporal punishment is a personal choice parents make, but corporal punishment can and has been used responsibly for thousands of years to correct children when they err.

    I have 3 children under age 6. And I can tell you that they work my nerves regularly. I have been very angry at my children at times, so I know what frustration feels like, and it is sometimes intense. However, I am always careful not to take ‘discipline’ to the point of ‘abuse’. I remember that, no matter what ‘offense’ they may have committed, they are still little children and their lives are precious.

    I recall getting extremely angry with my 4-year-old for taking my brand new exercise DVDs out of their cases, smudging them with food, hiding them, and then lying about it all. That made me mad and she got spanked.

    Afterward, I regretted spanking her in anger and I went to comfort her. She revealed to me that she took them out of the cases because she wanted to match the numbers. That made me feel like crap on a stick.

    Children may do things that drive us nuts, but usually there are purely innocent motives behind it that, in our frustration, we don’t immediately recognize. Further, there are so many wonderful things that children do RIGHT that it far outweighs any temporary mischief they commit.There is no reason to make them pay with their lives for some momentary wrong.

    These stories make me sick to my stomach. They absolutely repulse me. They make me want to hug my kids and tell them how much I love them. I am so sorry for the lives of these children that are snuffed out at the hands of these abusive monsters. They die not understanding why the people entrusted with their care are the ones ending their lives.

    On another note: How irrational and unfair to give ANYONE three minutes to prepare clothing for the next day! I don’t even think I would be able to pass that ridiculous test! Children of that age may not even know what to put on, or where it is! My daughter is 5 and I am the one who prepares her clothes for school. If I wanted her to take on responsibility for this task, I would patiently teach her how over a period of a few weeks or more, not give her 3 minutes and then kill her if she didn’t complete the task on time!

    You can psychoanalyze this man all you want. That innocent little boy did not deserve to bear the weight of this man’s emotional scars, just as you were not responsible for your adoptive mother’s stresses in life. He is a murderer. He deserves to die. And that’s all there is to it. If it were my child he murdered, I would kill him myself.

    In fact, if these ‘care’ givers were to experience the same brutality that they inflicted on these children, I guarantee there would be an almost immediate decline of these tragic events.

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