Home is Where the Abuse is…

In the video clip he posted to YouTube, Oscar Lopez can be heard asking neighbor Anthony Sanchez, “Why don’t you come over here and teach ME!?” Lopez, you see, had just captured footage of Sanchez lashing his stepson with a belt for failing to catch a baseball. 

Sanchez turned himself in on Friday, after the clip went viral. On Saturday, he resigned his post as director of California’s Imperial Irrigation District. He’s now being held on $100,000 bail for suspicion of felony child abuse, yet another elected official implicated for yet another failure of character.

Now I realize that many adults over a certain age had the crap kicked out of them as children, and I also know that serious child abuse is often a cycle. Sanchez, age 34, probably knows these things too. What he doesn’t seem to realize, however, is that there’s no excuse for wailing on a kid either way.

And what was Stepfather of the Year’s excuse?  In the footage he can be heard responding to Lopez, “The boy suffers from ADHD! Do you know how he acts?” Well okay then, Sanchez, by that standard you need a head-punch and 2 face-slaps.

My father I and fought and yelled at each other a lot, but I’m grateful that as far as we know, neither my brothers nor I come from a familial chain of kiddie beatings. My dad didn’t “teach us lessons” first taught to him through viciousness. Sure, he’d take off his belt on occasion and snap its folded lengths together, but it looked cooler that it did threatening.

On one occasion, in fact, his skill at wielding the thing became more interesting than our conflict and he wound up giving me a try! It then became a years-long contest to see who could snap it louder. It wasn’t ‘til I was 13 or so, and telling him to go fuck himself that the punching started. And back then our neighbors wouldn’t have pointed cameras at my parent’s yard: they would’a charged admission and passed out scorecards.

But those are stories for another day. Despite being a child of the 70’s, when many adults felt that taking a belt to your kid while smoking two packs a day was the way of the world, there isn’t much that makes me angrier than child abuse. Just because I personally didn’t worry about whether or not a whipping was waiting for me when I got home from school, some of my classmates and friends weren’t so lucky. Only as we grew older did I learn just how many lived with that fear.

Some of those kids maintain to this day that it toughened ‘em up, though I suspect they long ago built durable psychological defense mechanisms as a result of some terrible memories. But a lot of today’s 40-somethings  – especially those with kids of their own – remember socially sanctioned spankings with some nostalgia. It was on our watch that society turned big corners with regards to child abuse, cigarettes, AIDS, recycling, and so forth, and I’m sure there are times when all of us pine for the “simpler” days of old (whether or not those days actually existed).

Maybe that’s why I’ve heard and overheard some people respond to this story with comments that miss the point. This morning an older man ahead of me in the grocery line said that if Sanchez had merely taken the kid inside and not been caught on a neighbor’s camera, all would’ve been well. Sanchez wouldn’t have been arrested, jailed, and forced to resign his elected post. “It just goes to show you,” the cashier agreed. “Cameras are everywhere. You can’t do nuthin’ you don’t want on YouTube anymore.”

Cameras!? What about about the boy on the receiving end of Sanchez’s belt? This was a game of catch, folks; the boy got whipped with a belt for failing to catch a baseball. And it’s probably not the first time this sort of thing has happened, ‘cause if you watch closely you can see that he actually talks back to his stepfather in protest. He had to learn that. He had to get himself to the point where he could at least mount that much of a defense. How many beatings did he take before he worked up the courage up to respond at all?

So yeah: Why don’t you come over here and teach me? Exactly. Good for you, Oscar. I would’ve demanded the same thing of Sanchez, though probably with more cursing as I climbed over his fence to ask him to his face.