Little boy's last days full of pain and anguish
By Brenda Payton
Oakland Tribune, September 21 2003

THE MISERY of his short life was not in his face. In a photograph, his eyes were bright and alert, his smile cheery. Three-year-old Chazarus Hill, affectionately known as Cha Cha, looked happy. His last days, however, were a nightmare of physical abuse, torture, really. His body was literally covered with bruises. Pathologists at the Alameda County Coroner's office called it the worst case of child abuse they've ever seen. His father, Chazarus Hill Sr., has been arrested on suspicion of murder.

How did the world look to a little boy whose father allegedly hit him when he said the incorrect number on a flashcard? Imagine how his tiny heart must have raced when he had to give an answer. What could have been in the mind of a child who was allegedly beaten with tree branches and belts, was pushed down, yanked by the arm and violently, verbally abused?

Did he know it wasn't normal for a young child to be punched by a grown man? That the force of the blow and the crushing pain were never supposed to be experienced by a 3-year-old body? Did he know he shouldn't be living in constant fear and pain? Could he have realized he was being beaten to death?

This tragedy is all the more heart rending because neighbors said they reported the abuse to Child Protective Services. This wasn't one of those cases in which people turned their heads and convinced themselves they hadn't seen what they saw.

There are some witnesses you can't understand -- Cha Cha's paternal grandmother, who didn't do anything to stop the abuse she says she didn't condone, his step-mother who apparently observed the most extreme violence as it escalated in the last days.

But the neighbors reported what they saw. They even called Cha Cha's mother and maternal grandmother in Los Angeles when the abuse worsened, and they got no response from CPS.

The mother and maternal grandmother were on their way to the Bay Area to get him when they heard he had died. The grandmother says they had called CPS and told them to protect the little boy until they got here.

Before the television news cameras, their grief was unwatchable. The grandmother cried that if CPS had responded, her grandson would be alive. Tears ran off the mother's chin.

Child Protective Services is investigating the case. Monday, the agency didn't have any answers about why no one intervened to save the little boy. But the answers are predictable -- an overloaded system, social workers with too many cases. The validity of the answers won't make them any more satisfying. Neighbors saw a 3-year-old being violently abused, called authorities. Nothing happened and the little boy was killed.

The Bay Area was horrified by the news of Cha Cha's beating death. Strangers have been leaving mementos at a memorial outside of his house. How could such a thing happen? The question sounds like a broken record. There are far too many examples of children who are chronically abused and killed. For all the rhetoric about cherishing children, our society is unable to protect them.

Cha Cha was a bright little guy who the neighbors were attached to. You can only imagine how he would have adjusted to kindergarten, whether he would have liked his second-grade teacher, which subjects he would have liked most in the fifth-grade. Whether he would have played baseball or preferred to play an instrument, the trumpet maybe.

You can only imagine because he didn't live long enough to do any of those things. He didn't get a chance even to be a little boy.

His life was short -- cut short -- and tormented. It was the only life he had. In those last horrible hours, did Cha Cha wonder why no one stopped the hitting and beating? He couldn't have known his mother and grandmother were on their way to rescue him. Did he know he didn't deserve his suffering? Could he have known he was dying?

Brenda Payton's column appears in the local section on Tuesdays and Fridays and on the opinion page on Sundays.

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