Smack My Kid Up: Georgia Man Charged With Child Cruelty

11 Sep

Well, it’s taken four months of hardcore blogging, but it’s finally here: the first-ever State of Affairs Reader Request post.

Over the last few months, you – my valued readers – have endured my often-controversial takes on subjects spanning the gamut from comic conventions to the environment, from burqas to Billy Corgan.  And you’ve responded, sometimes in spades, with well-written, well thought-out missives in my comment section.  For that I am endlessly grateful, because that’s pretty much why I do this – to incite conversation and arguments (okay, maybe more arguments).

But for the first time this morning, I received a message from a reader asking me to cover a news piece she found that made her scathingly angry.  Since anger is pretty much my bread and butter, I agreed immediately.  First, in case you don’t believe me, here’s the text of the message.

“Hey Alex

, I have a State of Affairs request. Not long ago I read an article about a 60 year old man (in a Walmart) who walked up to a crying two year old and smacked the kid in the face…It’s 50 50 on the comments. Half the people think the guy was right for taking action but he should have slapped the mother. The other half wants the book thrown at the man. My personal opinion is there is a difference between a toddler crying because they can’t communicate versus an undisciplined 6 year old throwing a fit over not getting cookies… I think the man was abusive and if he was going to do that to my kid I’d beat the living shit out of him before he got the first smack in.  But I just thought it would be interesting to see what you’d write. We all get a little aggravated when a baby is throwing a fit in a public place.

Hope you are well and I enjoy reading your blogs. I wait for the newer onces to come out.


Okay, before I get into the meat and potatoes of Jodie’s suggested reading, I just wanted to say how awesome it is to get email like this.  Believe it or not I work very hard on this blog, and it’s really nice to hear that people are enjoying it — and, of course, it’s particularly nice to avoid trudging through the news looking for stories every now and again.  So thanks, Jodie, for your readership and your suggestion.

Now let’s get to the hate.

First of all, I tracked down the original article to get a little perspective on the case, because I figured I’d give the old man in question (whose name is Roger Stephens) the benefit of the doubt.  The first thing that struck me was this picture (and I apologize in advance for the lack of clever MS Paint additions — my computer broke and I’m borrowing a piece-of-shit Mac that doesn’t have any programs on it.  Donations toward a new computer are welcome):

Well blow me down.  I hate to generalize, but doesn’t this dude just look like the type of guy who would slap a kid around?  I mean, he’s basically the live-action version of Jeff Dunham’s Walter:

walter jeff dunham
According to the article, old Mr. Stephens approached mother Sonya Matthews in an aisle of an Atlanta Wal-Mart because Ms. Matthew’s two-year-old daughter was crying.  He allegedly said “If you don’t shut her up, I will”, and a few minutes later he started laying the smackdown on the toddler — to the tune of four or five across the eyes.  He then turned to a stunned Matthews and said “See?  Told you I would shut her up.”

Wow.  Okay.  On one hand, if this was a scene in a movie, I’ll admit I would probably be defecating myself with laughter, because realistically, anybody who’s ever been stuck on public transit, in line at the DMV or on a red-eye flight with a wailing child has probably fantasized about clubbing the errant infant like a baby seal.  But this wasn’t a movie — it was a fucking Wal Mart.  It also wasn’t some seven-year-old pitching a fit, as Jodie pointed out, over cookies or Lucky Charms or something — it was a two year-old who was probably in pain due to teething or something.

I understand that Stephens is the product of another time — he’s a senior citizen and was raised in an era where it was perfectly acceptable to slap your child as a form of discipline.  In fact, if my parents are to be believed, it wasn’t uncommon for someone else to do it for you if your kid stepped out of line and you weren’t around to deliver the gentle reminder yourself.  Old people sometimes forget they’re living in the modern era.  For example, my grandfather was in a grocery store a few years ago, looking for Brazil nuts, and wondered aloud to himself where they were hiding the “nigger toes” (an obviously-outdated colloquialism for the nuts in question).  Upon realizing what he had said, he looked around frantically, hoping nobody heard him.  The large black woman beside him at the counter took one look at him, correctly judged his age (about 80) and burst into laughter.  My grandfather was mortified, but luckily the lady made the correct assessment — he’d meant no disrespect, it was just what his generation had always called that particular brand of nuts, so it was a forgivable error.

brazilnutsNot so much with Roger Stephens.  It’s one thing to use a racial slur in a non-perjorative statement; it’s quite another to slap the shit out of someone’s baby just because it’s crying.

I took a look at the comment section, and Jodie was right — it’s just about 50/50 in the opinion polls.  A lot of people want the book thrown at this guy, and frankly I tend to side with them — “out of line” doesn’t begin to cover the enormity of Roger’s actions.  The rest seem to think he had the right idea but the wrong target — he should have slapped the mom.

Now, I’ve written considerable amounts on parenting and my opinions about it — if you’ve read my previous posts, you know I take the idea of being a parent very seriously, and I impute considerable responsibility on the role.  You’d think from what I’ve written in the past that I would side with the people castigating Sonya Matthews as a shitty parent, but shockingly I don’t.

See, it’s one thing when your kid is misbehaving or throwing a temper tantrum and you as the parent either ignore it or cowtow to it.  I have zero patience for that.  When I was a kid I never threw a single tantrum because a) my parents raised me right and I knew better than to make an ass of myself in public, and b) if I had, my parents would have had no compunctions about tanning my ass right there in the store (this was back in the 80s when you could still do that without being arrested for child abuse).

But, as Jodie said, there’s a big difference between a toddler or young child and an infant.  At two years old, I’d still place the Matthews kid in the “infant” category, because frankly a lot of kids can barely speak at that age.  This isn’t a temper tantrum we’re talking about here — this is an inability to communicate effectively, and that is not a punishable offense.  At best, maybe Ms. Matthews could have gotten her shopping done quickly and gotten her kid home for a nap or something, but irritating as it is for everyone involved, sometimes kids cry.  It’s the way it is — deal with it.

You totally weren’t expecting that from crabby old Uncle Alex, were you?

Anyway, it’s reader feedback time.  What do you figure should be done to this guy?  He’s being charged with cruelty to a child, which is a felony in Georgia, and the kid didn’t suffer any permanent damage other than what you’d expect from a slap in the face.  Before you make your decision, check out this video.

Pay close attention around the 0:50 mark.  See that twitching?  The shakiness?  The jaw-clenching?  There’s clearly something wrong with this guy.  Maybe he’s a ‘Nam vet, maybe he’s just getting senile.  Either way I think the appropriate response to this is some kind of criminal charge matched with mandatory anger management therapy.  If he’s mentally ill, that should be addressed, because no matter what bolt of cloth you’re cut from, in no reality I’m aware of is it anything but really frigging weird for somebody to go ape shit on a kid in the middle of a store.

Tell me what you think.  In the meantime I’m going to celebrate a friend’s birthday and try not to think about the fact that it’s September 11th.  No, I don’t want to write about that, so don’t ask.

Enjoy your weekend, readers.

6 Responses to “Smack My Kid Up: Georgia Man Charged With Child Cruelty”

  1. rachti September 11, 2009 at 9:03 PM #

    really it’s a very good posting , good work

  2. Jodie September 12, 2009 at 1:11 AM #

    Thank you for posting my request Alex I really appreciate it. This hit close to home because a little while ago I was in the mall with a friend. She was taking an important call on her cell. There was an infant of about 2 years old screaming her head off about wanting her mom. Her father very calmly tried to get the kid to stop crying. But at that point it was plain to see she was very distressed and nothing was going to calm her. My friend gave the father a nasty look and got all pissy about the damn kid.. I remember giving her shit for not moving from a public place if she needed to make an important phone call and to leave the struggling father alone… Poor baby was really upset about her mother not being there. And to me punishing her about it is not appropriate.

    To be honest I’ve looked after my share of children. I’ve managed to keep better control of them not physically disaplining them, then their parents could spanking them. It’s a double standard. If you smack someone for annoying you it’s assault and battery. You hit a child for it and it’s disapline. People just need to learn how to disapline rather then taking the two easy ways out. Hitting them to make it go away quick, or doing nothing. As for the old man… In the moment I’d kick the living hell out of him. In terms of his sentencing I’m in agreement with councelling and some light jail time. Make the point that he can’t bully but not get carried away in the outrage. At this point I don’t think it would help anyone.

  3. Canadian Sports Chick September 18, 2009 at 2:40 PM #

    I’m with Jodie, it’s the poor little girls fault. At that age they don’t know any better and are just trying to communicate the old they this could. The old man should definitely be convicted and if it had been my kid… I would have then been arrested for assault, I’m sure.

  4. Canadian Sports Chick September 18, 2009 at 2:53 PM #

    I meant to say it’s not the poor little girl’s fault since I’m not a crazy child-hater.

  5. Shannon T. September 30, 2009 at 9:15 PM #

    Ok, since I am new to the blog, I am just catching up on all that was missed. I don’t comment on a lot of the articles, but this one has sent me into a tirade. I am a mother of four. One of those for being a two year old. If some son of a bitch ever slapped my child in the face ONCE let alone four or five times, I would be up on charges! And alot of the comments I have read keep refering to the age of the child as the decsion maker. FUCK THAT! If some adult slapped my ten year old I would be making sure charges were filed. Under NO circumstances does anyone have any right to put their hands and my child. I understand that a child throwng a fit is annoying. I also get that when a parent does nothing it is even more annoying. It still NEVER gives anyone the right to slap a child. And lets also factor in learning disabilities. How does anyone who does not know the child personally know that there is not something wrong with the child beyond anyone’s control? Are there people walking around smaking the handicapp if they get too loud as well? I understand that this was a bizarre case and not common. My comments are more directed at the morons who want to applaud this man’s actions. And Alex, please don’t think for one second that I am leaving you out of this tirade. At best she could have hurried her shopping along??? I know for a fact that you do not have children. If I have groccery shopping to do and a child is throwing fit, I don’t care. I will take as long as it takes me regardless of the fit my child is throwing me. I have shit to do and a tight time frame to do it in. You can call it bad parenting with all of your limited expierence if you want to, but let me make one thing clear: A temper tantrum is nothing but an attention seeking device. You aknowledge it and it never ends. This guy deserves nothing less than a few years in jail. It’s child abuse and if you ask me, (which you kinda did with the feedback section) it should also get a terrror charge as well. Maybe a civil lawsuit thrown in with it for pain and suffering. Better yet, 3 years in a daycare with his hands tied behind his back!


  1. Link Me When September Ends: SOA Monthly Recap « State of Affairs - September 30, 2009

    […] was really hoping I might be able to give you some more information on that crazy old guy in Atlanta who smacked the shit out of that lady’s kid in Wal-Mart, or gleefully report the Wii-playing […]

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