Oakland council to take swing at alternative to spanking ban

By Kathleen Kirkwood, February 5, 1999

OAKLAND -- Supporters of a "No Spanking Zone" have taken the "spank" out of their proposal, hoping to win City Council endorsement for a less conspicuous educational campaign against hitting children.

The idea drew so much ridicule when it was introduced in committee last week, as media toyed with the word "spanking," that most council members and Mayor Jerry Brown quickly distanced themselves from the concept.

But Councilmember Nate Miley and Alamo resident Jordan Riak, who came up with the proposal, say the media and the council missed the larger issue: Oakland police have a backlog of 2,000 child abuse reports to investigate and receive between 60 to 100 reports per month.

So a new resolution will be introduced to the council Tuesday, drafted by Miley (Eastmont-Seminary), sans the "s" word.

Instead of posting "No Spanking Zone" signs around the city, the council would adopt the stance that hitting children is wrong and encourage education about the subject.

It uses phrases such as corporal punishment, hitting and child abuse -- no mention of spanking.

Educational tools
But like the No Spanking Zone proposal, there would not be penalties created -- only educational tools.

"Corporal punishment of children is not a recommended practice and the city encourages all of its residents to refrain from hitting their children," the resolution states.

Councilmember Nancy Nadel (West Oakland-Downtown) said she could support the concept, but other council members contacted Thursday were noncommittal, still displeased over the controversy the No Spanking Zone proposal raised last week. Brown still maintains the issue is a private one.

Riak, whose red stop sign posters that say "No Spanking Zone," already are a common sight in hospitals and clinics, said he supports Miley's strategy.

"The original (no spanking zone proposal) was a bit more idealistic, and will be more palatable at a future date," Riak predicted.

Nevertheless, Riak still prefers the word "spank" to "hit" or "corporal punishment." He does not plan to water down his own campaign, which is getting interest overseas.

"I want to use the word people use when they hit their children," Riak said.

His nonprofit, Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education, aims to eliminate all physical discipline of children, on the basis it is unnecessary, damaging and perpetuates a cycle of violence.

Riak said it will take American society a few generations to overcome attitudes about hitting children, likening the issue to the struggle for women's rights and abolishing slavery.

Nine countries have such laws
Riak said Sweden and eight other countries have adopted legislation banning hitting of children, and it is only a matter of time before the rest of world follows suit.

Riak's "No Spanking Zone" signs have been translated into German and Farsi, and he recently had a request from Israel, and is planning to translate the wording into Hebrew.

"A lot of people have been waiting to see what happens in Oakland," said Riak, who has posted letters from all over the world on his Web site, www.nospank.net.

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