Los Angeles Times January 27, 1999

Oakland Panel Rejects No-Spanking Proposal
Behavior: Several speakers make personal pleas for the largely symbolic measure. Full City Council will consider the idea in two weeks.
By EDWARD WONG, Special to The Times

OAKLAND--After a debate that raised childhood memories, a City Council committee voted Tuesday to reject a proposal that would make Oakland the nation's first "no-spanking zone."

The 2-1 vote by the Public Safety Committee reduced the likelihood that the full City Council would approve the idea pushed by retired college photography teacher Jordan Riak.

Riak's proposal would carry no legal sanctions or punishment for adults who spank children. But the largely symbolic measure would allow Riak to post anti-spanking signs in public buildings and spaces. "I expected the strong likelihood that they would make the decision they did, so I'm not surprised," Riak, 65, said after the vote. He pledged to push his idea again when the full council takes up the issue in two weeks.

On Tuesday, only committee Chairman Nate Miley seemed deeply interested in the proposal, holding up a Bible at one point and contending that an end to spanking would reduce overall violence. "It goes to the core of having a civilized, civil society," he said.

Committee member Larry Reid at first treated the matter as something of a joke. "All right, who spanked the child?" he said with a smile. Later, Reid said he has spanked his own son out of love, not malice. "I did get spanked when I was a child," he added, "and I appreciate the spanking that my grandparents gave me."

Nearly all the 11 speakers from the public urged passage of Riak's measure. Some barely held back tears as they recounted personal instances of childhood trauma.

Oakland resident Thordie Ashley, who strongly backed Riak's campaign, said she had been permanently scarred by early spankings. "It has buried my soul, and I will die with that hate and fear of people beating and spanking their children," she told the panel.

No U.S. state or city government has ever issued sanctions against corporal punishment in the home, although California is one of 23 states that outlaw the practice in public schools. Six European countries, beginning with Sweden in 1979, have banned all spanking.

Riak hopes that spanking will take a bruising nationwide.

"I think this issue is too important to be sugarcoated or to wait for convenient, politically correct times to introduce it," he said. "I think hitting a child is like a building that's on fire with people waiting on the top floor. You act now to save them."

Riak, a father of three grown children, said he was never spanked and never spanked his own youngsters.

In 1985, after moving to California, Riak helped then-Assemblyman Sam Farr draft a bill to abolish corporal punishment in the state's public schools. The bill was voted into law in 1987.

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