What’s The Matter Here?

I drove around the corner, pulled up short and dialed 911.

“Trenton Police. What’s your emergency?”

“There’s a woman abusing her kid. Magowan Alley off Clinton Avenue.”

“Tell me what you saw.”

“She was in the middle of the street as I was coming slowly down it and she grabbed his arm and flung him toward the sidewalk in a really mean way.”

“You say she moved her child out of harm’s way?”

“Well, … technically yes, but she did it several times and really meanly and he was crying. As I drove by she was screaming at him, between glancing back and forth at her phone. He was really crying and looked afraid she was going to hit him. I was afraid for him and thought I should do something.  She was being really mean.”

“Someone being mean to their kid? Good thing you called. We’ll send a squad car.”

Okay that didn’t happen.

When I saw the woman look up from her phone and realize that I was creeping toward her at about 2 mph I thought she’d just mosey toward the side like the other people walking down the narrow street. I wasn’t ready for the violence with which she grabbed the arm of the 3-year-old beside her and flung him toward the sidewalk. She didn’t move herself, but instead consulted her phone. As I got within 50 feet or so she stepped toward the crying child and again grabbed his arm and flung him, this time onto the sidewalk. She joined him there and got all up in his face, yelling at him as tears streamed down. It was as if she were kicking a kitten.

I pulled over and got out of the car.

“Hi, I’m Linda. Can we chat for a minute? What’s your name?”

“What? What’d you want?”

“Three-year olds sure can try your patience, can’t they?” To the child I said, “Hey, buddy. What’s your name?”  He stared wide-eyed, his thin body shuttering with each inhale.

I went on. “You know, I’ve been wanting to get involved in helping moms with parenting skills and I think I could really help teach you some strategies for managing a challenging little boy like yours. My kids are older now so I have a lot of experience. Do you want to take me up on that? We could meet once a week at a park or something….”

“Fuck you. Mind your own business.”

Okay that didn’t happen either.

I pulled over and got out of the car. I got my phone out and recorded that woman flinging her son by the arm, screaming at him as he cowered. Black Kids’ Lives Matter. All kids’ lives matter. How is this child going to grow into a functioning adult with a mother who treats him like that? I looked behind me and 4 other people also had their cell phones out, recording. Within three hours the videos went viral. Case workers from the Division of Children and Families recognized the mother; the video provided the evidence they needed to finally move that child to a safe and nurturing home.

Nope. Not that either.

The 20 or so people walking down the narrow street parted as I approached. They all saw what I saw. They all did what I did: nothing. If she’d been kicking a kitten someone, including me, would have intervened. I rode by, shaken, and thought of all those alternate scenarios on the way home. All the others likely felt equally bad that they didn’t do something, while of course wondering what they could have or should have done.

Someone probably treated her like that when she was a kid. She is probably under a lot of stress, with 2 young children, likely living in poverty. I could conjure excuses for that woman’s behavior but could think of nothing to excuse me from mine. There was no excuse for doing nothing. But what was the something that I should have done? Whatever it was, I didn’t do it. There is no penance I can serve after the fact that will comfort that child. There is no action I can take now that will tame that mother’s rage.

Answer me and take your time

What could be the awful crime

He could do at so young an age?

If I’m the only witness to your madness

Offer me some words to balance

Out what I see and what I hear

All these cold and rude

Things that you do

I suppose you do

Because he belongs to you

And instead of love

And the feel of warmth

You’ve given him these cuts

And sores that don’t heal with time or his age

And I want to say,

“What’s the matter here?”

But I don’t dare say

“What’s the matter here?”

But I don’t dare say

What’s the matter here? By Natalie Merchant

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