UPDATE: Joe Rickey Hundley, the 60-year-old man accused of slapping a black baby in his face during an airplane flight, surrendered to federal agents and appeared in federal court today. Details of his plea and bond release are at the end of this post.
Let me be very damn clear: Homeland Security would have had to pull me off Joe Rickey Hundley, a 60-year-old man accused of slapping a baby in his face after demanding his mother, “shut that nigger baby up” as their Delta flight descended into Atlanta.
Yup, you read that right: dude slapped a baby. A complete stranger. On a public airplane. And called that baby a nigger. Out loud. While that child lay in his mother’s arms, no doubt crying because of the change in air pressure in the cabin. Which is what babies tend to do when their ears hurt.
Even more disturbing? Only one person—Todd Wooten, who was seated 12 rows ahead—seems to have come to the defense of Jessica Bennett, 33, and her 19-month-old son, Jonah, in the Feb. 8 incident. Wooten told investigating FBI Agent Daron Cheney that he heard “derogatory language coming from the rear of the aircraft” and went to see what was going on; he arrived just in time to see Hundley “strike” the baby with an open hand—a hit Bennett said left a scratch under her child’s eye and has since made him fear strangers. Bennett also told The Smoking Gun that Hundley “reeked of alcohol,” and that he was “stumbling around wasted” after consuming several double vodkas during the flight.
Hundley, president of an aircraft parts manufacturer based in Idaho, was charged with simple assault in federal court in Atlanta, and faces a maximum of one year in prison if convicted. His attorney, Marcia Shein, told the Star Tribune that Hundley is pleading not guilty to the charge; Hundley told the FBI agent that he neither hit nor called the baby a racial slur, but he admitted that he did ask Bennett to quiet her child.
Hundley, who in 2007 pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault in Virginia after drunk fighting with his girlfriend,since has been suspended from his position at Unitech Composites and Structures of Hayden, Idaho. Al Haase, president and CEO of AGC Aerospace and Defense, the parent company of Hundley’s firm, said in a statement on the company’s website that the allegations against Hundley “are disturbing and are contradictory to our values.” Hundley, he added, was suspended in accordance to his company’s “personal conduct policy,” and would remain off the job “pending investigation.”
I need to know just what the hell they’re putting in the water around here that grown men think it is okay, in 2013, to slap black babies and call them niggers. Because please believe, this is feeling a little too damn common around these parts. Remember the guy who brutally punched, stomped, cursed and called a young, black Army reservist mom all kinds of niggers and bitches after she politely checked him for nearly hitting her 7-year-old daughter in the face with a door as he rushed out of a Cracker Barrel here in Georgia? Or the angry white guy who repeatedly slapped a crying 2-year-old in a Wal-mart in Stone Mountain, Georgia, after warning the child’s mother that if she didn’t shut up the little girl, he would?
Ish is real for black babies out here in these streets.
I came to this story from my friend Stacey Patton, an author, journalist and founder of the anti-child violence website, Spare The Kids, who, along with a mass of black moms, made clear in her FB post’s thread that she was absolutely livid that this man thought it his right to slap little Jonah. But Stacey inspired us to think more deeply about the incident when she related it to the deaths of black children—Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin—hurt and killed for no other reason than… being.
The persistent assault on and devaluation of black childhood is so rife. What this thread shows is that WE are willing to kill for our children. But the fact that this old pilgrim was not charged speaks volumes. White people can slap our babies as if they are insensate. They can shoot our boys for playing loud music. This is some plantation/Jim Crow madness.
We parents of color, Stacey added, would bode well to stop hitting our own black children, too, to help dispel the mentality that says, “well, those black people slap their own babies and beat the hell out of them, so I guess the rest of the world can do it too.”
We’ve got to demonstrate to our children that we can create a safe place for them in a society that fundamentally hates them. Our children need to know what it means to be protected. They should never have to normalize or expect violence.
I couldn’t agree with her more. And I can’t help but to think that none of these children and their mothers would have been physically and verbally assaulted if their men were there. Because, really, hitting women and babies and shooting teens in the middle of arguments is some low, cowardly shit that you do when your privilege starts feeling really good to you and it makes you think you’re 10 feet taller than you really are. I’m not suggesting for a second that mothers are weak. I am saying, though, that we are vulnerable—especially when others think our men/fathers/protectors aren’t around.
This is also true for the white parents of black children (Jonah’s parents are white; they adopted their son when he was an infant), who, no doubt, catch all kinds of hell from every doggone body—white people who question why they didn’t just adopt their own and black people who do the same, arguing that they couldn’t possibly love/educate/instill culture in a black child being raised in America. One of these days I’ll collect all the foul, racist crap people email to the MyBrownBaby account when they stumble on our post, “Why White People Adopt Black Children.” Some mornings it feels like I stumbled into a Klan rally, I promise you this.
In the meantime, what can we do for baby Jonah and his mother? We could start by signing Stacey’s petition, “Send Joe Rickey Hundley To Prison,” on Change.org. The petition calls for the U.S. District Court of Atlanta, led by U.S. Chief Judge Julie E. Carnes, to charge Hundley with a hate crime for using a racial epithet when he slapped little Jonah, and to ship him to prison to “send a strong message that says it is a serious crime to assaut a child.” Stacey’s petition also asks Delta Airlines president Edward Bastian to ban Hundley from flying Delta Airlines, and to put his name on a national flying registry so that “no other children are put in harm’s way by being seated next to him.”
This is the very least that the law and Delta can do to Joe Rickey Hundley, if only to send the powerful message that in 2013, we can no longer let grown men spit racial epithets at and slap black babies, toddlers, children and teens and their mothers and let it slide like we’re still living in the segregated South. Newsflash: black folk actually sit anywhere they want to on airplanes now, dear—not just in the back.
UPDATE: Joe Rickey Hundley, 60, surrendered to federal agents in Idaho on Tuesday to answer to charges that he slapped a toddler on a Minneapolis-to-Atlanta flight. His bond hearing was held at the federal courthouse in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mikel H. Williams of Georgia, who appeared via video. Hundley pled not guilty and was released by the magistrate on a $10,000 unsecured bond. As conditions of his release, Hundley cannot drink alcohol or possess firearms, must surrender his passport and cannot travel outside of Idaho, eastern Washington state or the northern district of Georgia, where the case will be tried.
In the meantime, the attorney who represents the man who slapped the baby on the airplane shortly after demanding the child’s mother “shut that nigger baby up” says she is receiving hate mail. Marcia Shein insists, though, that the public should refrain from rushing to judgement because “there’s background information people don’t know about” the case and her client. Shein also insists that Hundley is not a racist. Of course, Shein has her work cut out for her. According to the attorney representing the family, multiple witnesses say they saw Hundley racially abuse and slap the baby—including a federal air marshal.
1. Who Gonna Check Me, Boo? The Hazards of Putting ‘Em In Their Place
2. Videotaped Beatings and Child Abuse Handbook Show Why Hitting Kids Is Dead Wrong
3. Spanking, Time-Outs and the Soul Train Line: Getting To the Discipline That Works For Us
4. Behind Jet Magazine’s Jordan Davis Cover: A Courageous Stand For Justice