The traumatization of children: Just for today, let's extend our anecdotal survey of the terrible things that can happen to children. Let's even consider their possible traumatization.
We turn to an Associated Press report, a report we found this morning on the web site of the Washington Post. We'll focus on the 7-year-old caught up in these events:
DAZIO (6/18/20): The half-brother of a black man recently found hanged in a Southern California park was fatally shot by police after opening fire on deputies about to arrest him on charges he beat his girlfriend and held her captive for nearly a week, according to authorities and court documents.Some children get a very bad deal when it comes to such matters as these. As to why Boone was being pursued, the allegations read as follows:
The shootout occurred Wednesday afternoon as Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies attempted to stop a vehicle driven by a woman police described as another former girlfriend of Terron J. Boone. A 7-year-old girl was a passenger along with Boone.
Deputies shouted “hands up!” and Boone opened the passenger door and began firing from a semiautomatic handgun, authorities said. Boone fired at least six rounds, hitting the deputies’ vehicles, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Robert Westphal of the homicide bureau. Four deputies returned fire, fatally striking Boone.
The girl and deputies were not injured. The driver was struck by gunfire and treated and released from a hospital.
DAZIO: In Boone’s case, authorities allege he imprisoned his on-and-off girlfriend in her Palmdale home between June 9 and Monday, threatening and pistol-whipping her, court documents show. The girlfriend “waited for an opportunity when he wasn’t looking and she was able to get out, run to a business and had them call 911,” Westphal said.We can't vouch for the accuracy of any of these statements. But assuming this whole thing wasn't made up, a 7-year-old girl was present in a car when a gun battle broke out.
Prosecutors filed 13 counts against Boone on Tuesday and a warrant was issued for his arrest. The next day a surveillance team of deputies followed Boone to a residence in the desert community of Rosamond, about 20 miles north of Palmdale.
Boone got in the vehicle and left with the woman and child. Deputies later moved in to arrest him and the shooting erupted.
She was present to see her mother get shot. She saw a second person of her acquaintance as he was being killed.
Should 7-year-olds be exposed to such events? Presumably no, they shouldn't.
Might some form of traumatization result from such horrific events? We'd have to guess that such things happen. You may recall the first-person account of childhood trauma we cited at the start of the week.
We pause to note an intriguing fact about that AP report. Right from its opening sentence, it focuses on the fact that the person who was shot to death was the half-brother of Robert Fuller, 24, who recently died by hanging.
Indeed, the Post might not have published that AP report but for the connection to Fuller. Exactly one week later, Fuller's case reappears on this morning's front page, in a lengthy report which strikes us as the type of journalism which may appear at revolutionary times such as these.
Out in high desert country, authorities are still trying to determine whether Fuller committed suicide or was killed by somebody else. In this morning's bracing report, the Post adopts a less than fully dispassionate stance with respect to that probe and especially with respect to the feelings which surround it.
That said, in paragraph 9 of this morning's report, the Post offers new information to readers. It involves a second high-profile death by hanging. That paragraph reads like this:
GREEN (6/25/20): In Victorville, a city about 50 miles east of here, Malcolm Harsch hanged himself from a tree near a homeless camp on May 31. A review that turned up videotape of Harsch’s death confirmed that the 38-year-old had killed himself, a finding announced by his family to ensure public trust in it.Really? Harsch's family has announced that his death was a suicide? That (pretty much) came as news to us, in part because we read newspapers like the Post and the New York Times.
For starters, consider the Post. On June 22, the Post published an opinion column by Stacey Patton, who has occasionally been spotted out well past her skis. Along the way, Patton said this (headlines included):
PATTON (6/22/20): Police say deaths of black people by hanging are suicides. Many black people aren’t so sure.Three days earlier, on June 19, Harsch's grieving but thoroughly decent family had announced that his death actually had been a suicide. Three days later, the Post was still exciting readers with Patton's exciting misstatement of fact, connected to the frisson wrung from her citation of the police shooting.
Even the official cause echoes the history of the lynching era
The families of Malcolm Harsch and Robert Fuller, who were found hanging from trees in Southern California within 10 days and 50 miles of each other, are also denying police claims that the deaths were suicides. (On social media, attention is also focusing on the fact that Fuller’s brother, Terron Jammal Boone, was killed in a shootout with sheriff’s deputies in Los Angeles County last week.)
In her citation of the shooting, Patton didn't mention the apparent surrounding circumstances. She didn't mention the pistol-whipped former girl friend. She didn't mention the 7-year-old who was trapped inside this overall madness, a ball of madness which may even be said to include the Post's decision to publish Patton's column.
Let's review the chronology:
On June 19, the Harsch family announced that the death in question actually was a suicide. On June 22, the Post was still encouraging readers to think otherwise.
Everybody makes mistakes! Often, though, mistakes may keep pointing in one direction, occasioning unhelpful stampedes of feeling and false belief.
This morning, the fact of the Harsch family's announcement is finally reported by the Post in a single throw-away paragraph. In paragraph 9, without any detail and without any links, we're told what the Harsch family said.
After that, the exciting report moves excitingly on. This may resemble the type of work once referred to as "yellow journalism."
As for the New York Times, the paper reported what the Harsch family said in a later, online addition to a June 20 hard-copy report. You can peruse what resulted simply by clicking this link.
Clicking that link takes you to the current self-contradictory online report. As it now exists, the report initially says that the Harsch family is disputing the claim of suicide. Later, the same report says that they aren't.
Inevitably, the report quotes a realtor and a mental health therapist saying that no black man would ever hang himself in a public park. The Times printed these exciting remarks despite the fact that similar events have occurred in the recent past, something large news orgs should know.
In these ways, traumatization and fear, and even misjudgment, may spread among us humans. The mental health therapist cited above said that, when she visited the site of Fuller's death, “I just screamed. I was just so outraged and saddened.”
That mental health therapist is a good decent person. In part, she may have reacted in that way because of the various things she hasn't been told, by orgs like the Post and the Times, in the past quite a few years.
In Los Angeles County, a 7-year-old may have been traumatized by a deadly gun battle. In yesterday's report, we mentioned another 7-year-old, one who was described as "terrified" after a talk with his mother. The terrified child even said that he wanted to leave the U.S.
In recent years, various people, young and old, have been encouraged to believe the worst, and only the worst, concerning a range of events. In the next few weeks, we'll re-examine some of the ways our major news orgs have taken part in this unhelpful process.
Should 7-year-olds be terrified by things their mothers tell them? Ideally, no, they should not. But what if their parents believe the worst and only the worst? What are those parent to do?
Should 7-year-olds be terrified by things their mothers tell them? We'd say they probably shouldn't be.
Similarly, should adults be conned by the people who work at the Post and the Times? We'd vote against that process too, with more this afternoon.
When adults are told the worst, and only the worst, they may end up screaming in pain. They may end up believing the worst, and imagining only the worst, about an array of events.
At some point, they may pass their trauma along to their kids. The mother who said her child was terrified said that she herself was crying as she wrote her column for Slate, which then proceeded to publish it.
There's no "right" way to respond to endless accurate representations of our country's brutal racial history. Over the next few weeks, we'll suggest that there probably is a right way to assess the way our major news orgs have functioned over the past eight years.
When adults are told the worst and only the worst, they may end up terrifying their kids. On the brighter side, this may be good for sales and for clicks. For the record, it very much reflects the way our human minds tend to work at revolutionary times such as these.
No one would ever do such a thing, except for those who already have! This may be good for sales and for clicks, but is it good for anything else? Are people well served by this process?
Tomorrow: Somewhat peculiar ideas in the Times
Yale grads explore the depth of the rot?: For something which may verge on comic relief, come back this afternoon.