THE KID WILL HAVE no name and the adults will also have no names and the place where this happened will not be mentioned. There are children involved and adults who would rather not have their names in the paper, some of whom are not sure even yet whether what was done was right or wrong. One of them spanked a kid not his own.
It happened when the kid came around and made trouble. He was 10 years old, a boy of another neighborbood - a kid who sometimes behaved and sometimes didn't. This time he did not. This time he made a mess of something and then when he adult complained the kid opened his mouth and told him to drop dead.
He told him more than that. He stood there, this 10-years-old, and he talked of death and killing and then he hurled all the filthy words in the book at the adult. He was a street kid, a tough kid, and he had at his disposal all the words - all the words about parts of the body and the words about ancestry and the words combining the two. The adult had been around. He had been in the Army and he had heard these words but never from a child, and so he took off after the kid and he turned him upside down and he put his head in a plastic trash basket.
Everyone was watching. The neighbors were watching and the man's family was watching and so, too, was his wife. After the man took the kid out of the trash can, the kid picked up a brick, hurled it and ran. The man caught him. The man spanked him three times and then let him go. Later that day the police came. They more or less arrested the man. He had struck a child.
This is pretty much the story and this is the way I first heard it from one of the neighbors who had watched. We had been talking and I was saying how a colleague of mine was walking around the office asking everyone what he should do about this kid on his block who was pushing the other kids around - the other kids being his son and some others. He had warned the kid and he had talked to the father and now he was cruising the office, perplexed. What could he do? Could he hit the kid?
Good question. It's easy to say no. That's what the lawyers say: You cannot hit someone's else's child. But they do not tell you what to do when the kid has called your bluff, when he is no longer playing by the rules that say that a child should respect on adult. There is a difference between an adult and a child. When a man calls the police to report that a child is cursing him he is not going to get three squad cars with their lights on. He's going to get a funny look.
Anyway, the fellow worked his around the office. We talked it over and we all agreed that what we would like to do was spank a kid who needed a spanking. There are limits and a child must understand that there are limits an one way you get that message across is with a spanking. You cannot, after all, control the environment of a kid you do not know. You cannot suspend him from school or change his classes or keep him after school or take away his allowance.
There was something said later by the man who spanked the kid. He referred to a parental instinct - a feeling that some adults have that they are responsible for children. You feel it sometimes when a kid runs in front of your car - that urge to admonish or spank - and you feel it when you see a kid out very late at night and you would feel it, certainly, when face-to-face with some foulmouthed 10-year-old in an alley.
So we batted this back and forth and we waited for the hearing which was held sort of informally by the police. It was hard to tell who should have charges filed against whom and so there was this hearing. I thought maybe some Solomon of a police sergeant would rule - would say that you can spank a child under these conditions, but not under these. Nothing like that happened. The mother finally withdrew her complaint. Her child, she discovered from the testimony of witnesses, was no saint.
Later, I called the man and I said I couldn't figure out if he had done the right thing or the wrong thing. I am a person who is fundamentally for nonviolence under any circumstances, an occasionally lapsed adherent of the don't-hit-a-kid school of child-rearing, - a latter-day Jorn Dewey who once wrote that under no circumstances short of self-defense should a teacher hit a student. I still believe that. The rest is a lot harder.
So the man and I talked and we went over all the reasons he had spanked the kid - his anger, his pride, his need to show his children he could not be trifled with, his need to stand firm before his wife, his desire to teach the kid a lesson, this unaccountable urge to be parent to wayward children - the desire to spank a kid that common sense tells you needs a spanking.
It was all there and all working at once and he said he was wrong for doing it and I said he was wrong for doing it, and, of course, the lawyers would tell him he was wrong in doing it. So there you are and you cannot argue and you cannot have a world where adults hit kids - where being bigger and older means that you can hit. All of that is true and there is one other thing that is also true.
That kid needed a spanking.