San Francisco Chronicle, January 27, 1999

No-Spanking Proposal Takes a Licking in Oakland--Council panel rejects request for citywide ban
By Laura Hamburg, Chronicle Staff Writer

Oakland city leaders swatted down an idea to make Oakland the nation's first ``no-spanking zone'' yesterday.

At a spirited meeting where Dr. Spock was quoted and the deputy city attorney lectured on the legal definition of spanking, a key Oakland City Council committee rejected the proposal.

Instead, city leaders said they hoped to create a ``Love Your Child Day.'`

Oakland has been getting national attention since a retired photography instructor from Alamo asked city leaders last month to back an anti-swatting resolution and post no-spanking signs around the city.

But on a 2-to-1 vote, the council's Public Safety committee decided it was too difficult to define spanking.

``Some people are saying slapping is a pat on the hand, others are saying it's beating a child to death,'` said Councilman Henry Chang. `'Everything I heard here today was what I would call cruel abuse, not spanking.'`

In the latest Oakland controversy -- two weeks after a school district teach-in about a death row inmate -- the no-spanking zone idea ignited a national debate about punishment and provoked snickers from some parents who thought it was overkill.

``This matter has been trivialized and made fun of,'` said Councilman Nate Miley, the only ``yes'' vote. '`But this goes to the heart of creating a civilized society,'` he said. '`There are other ways to discipline a child. Love and firmness go a lot further than spanking.'`

The debate also raised heated questions such as whether spanking is a form of child abuse and does the government have a right to tell parents how to discipline their children.

``Saying it's none of the government's business is exactly what wife beaters used to say 30 years ago -- that my wife is my property and I can slap her if she doesn't mind me,`` said Jordan Riak, who authored the no-spanking resolution. ``Spanking is a form of abuse because if I did it to you and not a child, I would be arrested.``

Some council members though, said a swat on the behind is exactly what an incorrigible youngster needs now and then.

``When my son was 7, he got ahold of the matches and about burned the house down,'` said Councilman Larry Reid, who spanked the boy. ``That child does not carry matches or a lighter now.`'

Reid said his nephew, who is facing prison time for pistol-whipping three people and armed robbery, could have used more discipline growing up. ``I really wish my brother would have spanked him when he was young,'` Reid said.

At yesterday's meeting, however, most of the public speakers backed the no-spanking resolution. They passionately told city leaders about the abuse they suffered when they were growing up.

Tearfully, Iris Jackson of Alamo described the guilt she felt when she hit her own child after ``going on auto,`' because her own parents smacked her.

Thordie Ashley of Oakland talked about growing up in Texas and being whacked by her great-grandmother. ``She pounded me in the small of my back with her fist and called it spanking,'` Ashley said. '`It physically and emotionally scarred me. It created my dark side where I get angry and aggressive if I feel I am being attacked.``

And therapist T.J. Jackson asked council members if ``we can put a warning on Styrofoam cups saying the contents could be hot, can't we put up signs in our city saying don't hit your child?``

But in the end, the committee agreed with child-rearing guru Benjamin Spock and parents like Leslie Pollard of Oakland, who said sometimes spanking is OK.

[For for a clarification of Dr. Spock's views on spanking, click on "Dr. Spock on Spanking--The record set straight".]

``You can talk to a child til you're blue in the face about what he's done wrong,`' Pollard said. ``But if they're reaching out for that hot stove, it's the smack on the hand they're going to remember.'`

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