Saturday, September 19, 2009

I was a witness to a beating on Thursday

I was standing on my porch finishing up business with my friend Larry when the Vietnam vet pulled into his driveway with his 13-year-old daughter catercorner across the street. Larry and I stopped talking when we heard yelling coming from inside the car, whose windows were closed.

Then the daughter opened her passenger-side door a bit and we could hear the full-blown tirade of the father. We saw his hand being raised over and over and then heard the slaps onto the girl and her screeches each time. The father yelled each time before each hit "Yes or No!" ... "Yes or No!"

I pulled out my cell to call 911 and Larry flew across the street yelling, "Don't you do that! Don't you hit that girl!" As Larry stood by the vet's car demanding that the vet stop, the vet continued unabashedly to hit his daughter for another 30 seconds. The vet and I have had several conversations in which he makes no sense and tends toward stream of consciousness. I avoid him as much as possible. I did not join Larry at the house for that reason, as well as not knowing whether the vet was armed and the fact that my daughter often plays in my yard not 70 feet from the vet's own yard. I cannot watch her every minute.

I stayed on the phone with the 911 dispatcher as he dispatched the police and asked me to keep him updated on what played out in the vet's driveway. The vet eventually exited the car and argued with Larry saying that he had a right to hit his daughter to discipline her. The two men argued so loudly that the dispatcher could hear them. The girl stayed crouching inside the car.

The police arrived 5 minutes after the call, took statements from Larry, me, the girl and the vet. Soon afterward, they handcuffed the vet and took him to jail on a charge of simple battery and domestic abuse.

Last night, someone knocked on my door at 9:45. I opened the door slightly and saw the vet standing there with a pink children's camera in his hand and nothing in his other hand. I opened the door wide. He said, "Here. I want you to have this. I took pictures of my daughter's shoulder and there is only a tiny red mark. Nothing else. When I go to court, I would like you to testify that I brought this to you the day after the incident. Will you do that?"

"Yes," I said. "I will testify to everything that I know."

He nodded his head and tried to rationalize his behavior for a moment or two, saying that children have to be kept in line. I offered no response. He picked up on my disapproval and soon left.

One thing this revolting episode (which no doubt occurs tens of thousands of times each day for children in our country) brings up is one's values and how to act. I had, coincidentally, been discussing this very subject of intervention with strangers just two days before the vet episode, and I told my friend Chris at the time that I would only intervene if I thought that my four most important values weren't compromised or endangered then or in the future: my life, my business, my health and my daughter.

In this situation, my immediate thought was of myself and my daughter and the potential repercussions of dealing strongly with a potentially deranged man in our midst daily. These values trumped any physical action in the moment. It might've been a questionable call if Livy didn't live with me anymore and I felt like I could physically handle a potential threat from the vet at any time, but because the vet wasn't using his fists on the girl, she was not in mortal danger, so I probably wouldn't have gotten physical anyway.

Cherishing my lovely daughter, I can hardly imagine any parent EVER hitting their child even once, much less repeatedly. Incidents such as this really bring home the gulf between the rational and irrational in our world. I'm glad my daughter has two wonderful parents and will never know the physical and psychological pain of even a single abuse. I'm sorry that the girl across the street must live with the threat of abuse daily. I hope that the jail-time and more than $1,000 in expenses will go some way toward mitigating the vet's abuse.

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