Monday, May 20, 1996

Week of 05/20/1996

Editor's Note: Back in the winter of 95, a young child by the name of Austin Sparks was beaten to death. Although all the facts pointed to either the boy's mother or the live-in baby-sitter, the Georgia state politicians knee-jerked around a response to such a tragic occurrence…

Legislative Abuse
Death Penalty for Child Abusers? Who's abusing whom?
- by David Matthews 2


A child is abused by a parent.


A child dies from that abusive parent.


The parent is arrested. A community is outraged.


Enraged state politicians, flustered by the news and their own impotence on the issue, propose a bill that would make death by child abuse a capitol offense.

Who is abusing whom here?

Georgia's Lieutenant Governor Pierre Howard believes that abusive parents should go to the electric chair. While his support for the safety and welfare of children should be applauded, his methods are no better than the abusive parents he abhors.

Make no mistake, the death penalty is by far the most absolute of punishment, reserved for the most heinous of crimes. But does death from child abuse count as one of those most heinous of offenses?

Contrary to those aggravated crimes that the person knowingly and willingly commit, parents who abuse their child do not intend to kill that child. Ask any abusive parent, they will tell you they love their child and never ever intended that child to die from their abuse. Much like the drunk driver behind the wheel of a car, a child abuser loses control of themselves and injure their victims needlessly and recklessly. Will we say then that people who kill others while driving under the influence should be executed as well?

Parents who abuse their child do not consider what happens if their abuse ends up killing the child. They only think about stopping the child from crying, or acting out, or misbehaving, or doing whatever is upsetting the parent. They don't think about killing the child, never mind if that abuse ends up with them being sentenced to die. I'm sure some of those abusive parents who did end up killing their children would look forward to being executed themselves just so they could be reunited with their children in the afterlife. So much for using the death penalty as a deterrent to crime.

The Lt. Governor would do more good by focusing that righteous anger towards the state's Department of Family and Child Services; the agency designed to protect the very children who are being lost to abusive parents. Instead of focusing on punishing the parents after the tragedy occurs, the legislators could instead focusing on fixing the flaws with DFACS to make sure there are no more children like Austin Sparks are needlessly killed. Not only would this be more realistic in combating child abuse, but it would also be just as politically popular.

Child abuse is reprehensible and needless. But so is the legal abuse by the politicians who must treat the criminal justice system like a parent would a child.

Perhaps the best advice the lieutenant governor and other politicians who strike blindly without thinking should heed the advice all parents are given before disciplining a child: Step back, count to ten, and THINK!

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