Wednesday, March 12, 2014

On Child Abuse and Social Media Lynch Mobs

It's hard to keep things a secret in a small town.  So when someone does something particularly heinous (or weird or unusual or the lady who dyed her male poodle bright pink...yeah, that made the front page of the local paper, too), everyone will most certainly be talking about it.  This is, of course, why the whole town is abuzz with gossipy ignominy over a local young man's vicious behavior that landed his two week-old infant in the hospital with traumatic brain injuries.

According to the local news media (which is always trustworthy and unbiased), 21 year-old Michael Banks slammed his two week-old daughter (one of twins) onto a bed during a domestic dispute with the baby's mother.  Later when the baby became listless and unresponsive, she was rushed to the emergency room.  Investigators report that baby Violet had bruises on her face and neck, and medical tests revealed the infant's brain had been bleeding in several locations.


Abhorrent.  Atrocious.  Despicable.  And any other nasty synonyms you can look up in Roget's thesaurus.

Words can not adequately describe the awfulness of this man's actions.  I am sick at heart that this baby girl has had to suffer so because her father could not control his temper.

And social media has lit up with a cyber mob carrying virtual torches and pitchforks rallying for a literal lynching.  Some quotes from the self-righteous:
".45 bullet between his eyes. End of story"
"Take a chainsaw and run it from head to toe right down the middle"
"Need to take to the closest tree near the courthouse and hang him."
"Someone should beat him until his brain bleeds."

This is just a sparse sampling.  There are many, many more...some of them worse.  But these individuals, righteous in their anger, don't realize that there are worse punishments than death.  To live with endless wracking guilt, to relive a moment of horrible carelessness and anger over and over and over again without end, that is worse.  He hurt his child in a moment of senseless violence and anger.  How do you ever forgive yourself?  How do you live with yourself each and every day?  Sounds like a pretty horrifying punishment to me.

I've cried tears for baby Violet.  She is an innocent and helpless victim here.  I pray for a full and speedy recovery, not just of her body, but also of her wounded trust in the world.  There are some things that children should be able to believe in long and hard, not the least of which is the unconditional love of their parents and the safety of their arms.

But I've also cried tears for Michael Banks.  Because I knew him, at least a little.  I knew him as quiet and shy and soft-spoken. He was friends with my son.  They often hung out in what amounted to junk food and video game marathon induced teenage care-free stupor.   But school and changing priorities and different friends took Michael and my son in different social directions.

Just a few weeks before the birth of the twins, I watched Michael very lovingly and patiently help his very pregnant girlfriend down the steep and slippery steps of the town post office.  He offered his arm and held an umbrella for her.  He very tenderly helped her into her side of their waiting vehicle.  There was such a strong display of warmth and affection that I could feel it from the bank parking lot across the street.  It hit me so keenly, that I shared my observation with my husband that afternoon in one of those, "Guess who I saw today" conversations.  I even commented on how he seemed to have matured with the approaching birth of his babies.

I suppose I was wrong.

But I have a very, very difficult time reconciling the video game-playing Michael...and the tender display from the post office...with the mug shots slapped on the front page of the paper (He is currently being held on first degree attempted murder charges), and the vile monster Michael that the social media mobs paint.  Is he the same person?  Is it even possible?  Should a person be completely defined by a fleeting lapse of judgement in a moment of stress and lack of sleep?

Whether or not it is fair, he will forever be defined by that one horrific act.

So my tears for Michael are shed because I am angry for his wasted youth.  And for his children losing their father.  And for their broken family.  For wasted potential.  For unrealized possibilities.

Just last week, my son and I ran into Michael at the grocery store (It's a small town. You run into everybody everywhere!), and congratulated him on his beautiful twins.  When my son asked him how he was enjoying fatherhood he replied, "I'm not getting much sleep."

I am not so old that I don't remember how drainingly difficult brand new parenthood is.  Infants have a way of sucking the sleep out of life.  It's exhausting.  And when you are stuck in the middle, bone-weary and beyond frazzled, there seems to be no end in sight.  I remember the frustration of sleepless nights and pacing the floor for hours on end with an infant that is crying for no apparent reason at record-setting decibels and pitches that curdle blood...well, the number of times I had to set a child down, shut the door, and walk to another room to curl up in the fetal position myself just so I wouldn't cause bodily harm...I can't number them.  Because I COULD have thrown a baby on the bed in frustration.  I often hovered over that fine line of anger and frustration and Oh God, just please make it STOP.

But thankfully no children were harmed in the creation of this family (at least not guarantees on psychologically, but I'll let their future therapists sort that out), or I would be defined by one horrific act, just as Michael is now, with no attention paid to my more shining moments of love and patience and motherly compassion.  And maybe I was the only one who saw Michael's moment of tenderness on the post office steps.  But I saw it.  And I know that he is not thoroughly evil.  Because evil monsters are not capable of benevolent acts.

Perhaps there are monsters in this world, but they aren't hiding in our closets or under our beds, but inside of us.  Perhaps we are all just one hastily reckless act away from our own social media lynch mob.

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