By Dave Oedel
Roger Jackson, a renowned Central High graduate, NFL defensive back for six seasons, and an NFL scout for many years after, was arrested on May 26, 2015 in Macon, Georgia for battery in the spanking with a belt of an eight-year-old girl on April 22, 2015. The girl had been referred to Jackson’s after-school East Macon Main Street program, MOYO, the Motivating Youth Foundation that Jackson leads.
Sources suggest that the girl had behavioral problems at school and home, was expelled from school, and was then referred by the school to Jackson for discipline, correction and encouragement on better behavioral paths. The girl’s grandmother later objected to the discipline and raised the complaint.
Jackson’s charitable program is known for effectiveness in helping children to succeed despite deficiencies in other parts of their lives. The program is certified by state authorities as an after-school and summer program for children.
The criminalization of this complaint is an apparently misguided move that calls into question the good sense of the grandmother and those authorities who entertained it.
Jackson through his attorney will undoubtedly assert Georgia law, O.C.G.A. 16-20-3(3), which provides a justification for battery when “the person’s conduct is the reasonable discipline of a minor by his parent or a person in loco parentis.” In other words, corporal punishment is legal in Georgia by those acting in a parental role.
Jackson appears to have been acting in loco parentis, that is, in the place of the parent. In neighborhoods where fathers are too often absent, Jackson is well known for providing a dose of masculine, loving, fatherly authority. That’s partly why parents and school authorities refer children to his program, and why it’s so special and effective in context.
Jackson is known occasionally not to spare the rod. The girl’s family is said to have been on clear notice of that expectation before this incident, and to have had their kids continue to attend the program despite knowing that. The primary legal question therefore seems to be whether the discipline of belt spanking an eight-year-old girl on the bottom is “reasonable discipline.”
Although the girl’s grandmother and others might vehemently object to belt spanking, the Monitor’s informal surveys of Macon-Bibb citizens indicate that a substantial portion of Macon-Bibb’s population finds belt spanking by a person acting in a parental capacity to be reasonable. That is confirmed by a nationwide Child Trends study from 2012 finding that 90 percent of black men and 74 percent of black women believe a “hard spanking” to be reasonable discipline. If such polls are accurate, and if Jackson was acting in loco parentis, a local jury can be expected quickly to acquit Jackson of criminal charges.
A more typical approach to a case of arguably excessive spanking involves temporary placement of the child in another’s custody, or simple review of the conditions of the home, school or program — not the initiation of a criminal battery case. That was what happened in an older Washington state case of In re Duggan from 1968 that involved another eight-year-old girl who was said to have been excessively spanked with some implement, six separate times over a weekend by the parents, leaving marks all over the backside of the girl’s body. While upholding the temporary placement of the child in the state’s hands, the court there assumed and directed “that upon a review of this case, pursuant to proper petition, the juvenile court might well consider returning the child to her home.”
Although sensibilities about corporal punishment have changed somewhat over the years since Duggan’s case, the procedure for dealing with claims of excessive punishment really haven’t changed that much. Duggan’s case was not approached as a criminal matter, but as a matter of the girl’s best interests. Likewise, though NFL running back’s Adrian Peterson’s 2014 “whipping” case was initially treated as a felony criminal matter, it was finally adjudicated to involve mere oversight of Peterson’s parenting – really about the same as how the Duggan case was handled many years before.
Why is Roger Jackson being dragged through a criminal process instead of simply having his MOYO program be reviewed by the accrediting authorities for possible adjustment? This appears to be a misuse of the criminal justice system to force a confrontation with African-American community values that will likely result not only in Jackson’s acquittal, but pointless reputational damage to Jackson and his program.
Corporal punishment may be a bad idea in the abstract, but it is legal, and white local authorities aren’t dictators of what they imagine to be the “best” parenting strategies in someone else’s neighborhood.
Our criminal courts can be better occupied going after convicted felons of any color unlawfully packing and using guns to shoot innocent people and steal. Everyone agrees on that. Why be going after do-gooders like Jackson trying to help discipline kids in the apparent absence of fathers?
Unless there is a lot more than meets the eye to this situation, something is dramatically amiss with any criminal prosecution of Roger Jackson – and with the misplaced emphases of our prosecuting authorities.