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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Sunday, July 22, 2007

My baby's no saint

I don't have any babies...yet. But whenever I hear those words in that sequence - "my baby is no saint" - a red flag goes up.

That is the passive aggressive disclaimer of a parent in denial.

There was a girl I kicked it with in high school who was arrested, charged, and convicted for being an accessory to murder when she was in college. Her parents said she wasn't a sain't. I knew a kid in elementary who liked to hurt things, small animals. He's probably living like Hannibal Lecter somewhere right now. But I remember his parents defending him with the disclaimer that he was no saint. If I'd been wiser as a kid I would have explained to his folks that he left sainthood behind back when he was just stepping on ants. What they should have been saying about him was "Our kid was actually born human."

Last I heard the "no saint" disclaimer, a mother was speaking defiantly in a television interview about an angry letter a Cleveland, Ohio, city councilman had written to the woman's son. The councilman, Michael Polensek, lashed out at Tonya Lewis's GROWN son, Arsenio T. Winston, 18.

Winston was recently arrested and faces charges for allegedly dealing drugs at a convenience store in Polensek's neighborhood. It isn't his first run-in with the law. And according to Polensek, Winston, who doesn't even live in the neighborhood where he allegedly works as a sidewalk pharmacist, has a reputation for coming around that 'hood to hang out with gang bangers.

Polensek told Winston in the letter that he is a "thug," a "moron," a "crack-dealing piece of trash," and more. He also told him to straighten up his life or he would end up in jail or a cemetery.

So here's the deal. Polensek may have missed the class on choosing the best words to express your emotion. But his sentiment in this case is 100% right! I completely sympathize with the man and can't say I wouldn't have done the same in his position. There is nothing more infuriating than someone coming to your neighborhood to do dirt and then going back to their neighborhood to sleep.

I understand that Winston has not been convicted of anything with this latest arrest. But let's drop the pretense for a moment. Do you really need a criminal conviction to be able to ID the "thugs" in your neighborhood...if you have any thugs? I don't. The thugs are the cats who sit in front of other people's houses and bump vile music loudly and not care. They're the guys who will not-so-subtly send scantily dressed women (hmmm, prostitutes maybe?) strolling down the sidewalk next to a park where children are playing. They're the guys who will glare at you, when you give them that look for shadily skulking up and down your block, even though they don't live there.

You know what infuriates me most about this whole thing though? The alleged drug dealer's mother was more upset with the councilman than with her son. She called Polensek's letter racist and life-threatening, and said that the councilman was trying to usurp the legal system by declaring her son guilty before a trial. That "racist" accusation is bogus. Winston should be thanking Polensek for that letter as a dose of reality, because statistically the councilman is right: the average young, troubled, African American male stands a 1-in-4 chance of landing behind bars. And don't write me about how fair (or not) the justice system is. That's a different discussion. But seriously, a 25% chance of going to jail, and this kid's biggest problem is that he was called names in a letter?

And then Winston's mom said it: Her son is no saint.

Do you ever notice that no parent utters those words after their child has been accused of something small like stealing a cookie off the neighbor's window sill, or after their child is disruptive in class, or after their child failed to complete his chores? You only hear that phrase after a "child" has been accused of something really bad. That my friends, is proof of denial. At the point your "child" is accused of dealing drugs or being a gang banger or assault, or murder, etc., you are waaaaaay past "My baby's no saint."

A couple of weeks ago in Palm Beach County, Florida, a woman was gang-raped allegedly by a bunch of teenage boys wearing masks and (some) brandishing weapons. The boys allegedly also assaulted the woman's 12-year-old son and forced him at gunpoint to perform a sex act with his mother. When police captured a couple of the suspects, one of their fathers told a reporter that his son couldn't have done it because he is really "shy." Keep in mind that the boy has not been convicted of anything, but investigators supposedly have DNA and fingerprint evidence linking him to the crime.

Shy? Newsflash, dad. If your kid did this, he's not shy. Wearing a mask doesn't make him shy. And if he didn't do it, what the hell's he doing hanging out with the kind of young men who would do this sort of crime?

Instead of "My baby's no saint," or "My kid couldn't have, 'cause he's shy," how about something more realistic that doesn't make excuses, something that makes your kid take some responsibility? How about "My baby knows better.?" In fact, how about "My baby knows better. And even if he didn't do this, he needs a better set of friends, and he needs to straighten up his life. He's an adult and needs to act like it."

I'm not naive. I realize that admonishing words will just bounce off of many true thugs. They're going to do what they're going to do. But there's hope for some. And for those who still have a smidgen of decency buried deep down in their hearts it would go a long way toward their "cure" if parents would quit making excuses for them.

Forget the courts, forget nice words and mean words. Forget thin skins. If your kid is attracted to the "thug" life go upside his head. And if he resists your authority throw his punk-arse out of the house. And if he will give you the time of day after that tell him again, and again, and again to straighten his life up. And if you're soft-hearted and inclined to help, offer to help steer him to a secondary education and/or a job, provided he works hard. And if after all that he still acts up, denounce him. Speak out against his activities. Those will be the kindest words you ever say to or about him.

This is about heading off your "kid's" troubles at the pass, stopping the "infection" before it spreads.

OK, I'm all out of cliches. But you get my point.

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  • Hi James,
    I think crime type is a significant factor that should be considered when discussing criminals. Take the young brothers featured in Sexiest & Hardest Ghetto Black Male Felon Bragging Rights competition for 2007. The young brothers like Savannah's "Slavery Avenger" Michael Thorpe, Jena's Mychael Bell & Knoxville's Lemaricus Davidson and Letalvis Cobbins are clearly no saints; but they aren't monsters like Jeffery Dahmer or Charles Manson either.

    Like you have said, "Our kid are born human."

    We need to recognize our brothers whose crimes resemble social action protests against black poverty.

    By Blogger George du Maurier, at 3:35 AM  

  • "My baby's no saint." Translation: "I acknowledge that my child is mischievous, and this doesn't surprise me. He's always been a handful. Boys will be boys. That's just the way my baby is. Deal."

    I'm guessing many parents who use this cliché have given up hope, or feel powerless to make any changes in their babies' lives. They may feel that by stating the obvious, it somehow absolves themselves from responsibility. The statement seems more a concern over how their parenting is perceived than an excuse for their child's behavior.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 7:20 AM  

  • I really can't believe the tolerance of criminal and dangerous beahvior I see in many parents today. I see it in my own family, in a few kids who live up the street from me, and parent's whose children attend my son's school. Utter indifference to the disastrous path their children are taking to the extent that, like the mother you mentioned, they even make excuses and lash out at people who make pointed observations.

    I mean it really is amazing isn't it? These are our children that we are supposed to love and care for unconditionally. Ignoring their problems, making excuses, and allowing them to go astray certainly seems counterintuitive to that effort doesn't it?

    I often wonder about parents who display this kind of antipathy in the face of such severe behavioral issues. Makes me wonder if they really care about their kid at all.

    By Blogger Queen of Dysfunction, at 11:57 AM  

  • That was a great piece, James.

    Parents are responsible for the principles and ideals their kids develop, and a conscientious parent will instill honor, honesty and a strict set of rules to live by in their children when they are young. If they do a good job of it, those rules will most often keep the kids on the straight and narrow.

    My guess is that the parents of those kids you mentioned haven't a clue that they are at least partly responsible for how the kid behaves and seek refuge behind some nebulous generality like "my kid ain't no saint."

    By Blogger James Shott, at 1:07 PM  

  • Sir,
    I tried writing about this last Thursday, and attributed the problems to a lack of values and a loss of respect for each other. I'm not as good a writer as you, and didn't make the point as well. Please keep going. It's not just racial, it's societal too. Thank you.


    By Blogger The CEO, at 2:12 PM  

  • Excellent post. It seems the ones with the worst kids are the quickest ones to tell you what a wonderful person their kid is. Too many parents make excuses for their kids instead of teaching them responsibility for themselves. I think the best parents are the ones who are a little bit suspicious of their kids (probably because they remember their childhood), so they watch them a little closer.

    By Blogger BobG, at 3:02 PM  

  • Sarcasticynic said it. Parents don't know how to change the behavior/path their kids is on. As a parent it is painful to see your baby f-up. It's painful to watch your child chuck your advise out of the window in favor of their friends. However, to get to a point where the child is so bad, I can't even imagine. Maybe they just give up.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:56 PM  

  • When my kids were growing up, at one point, my older daughter (in high school then) made a comment to me one day that she felt I never came to their defense like other parents seemed to do with their kids and why was that? I told her it was because I did tend to think perhaps they might have done things that were wrong and as far as I was concerned, I was going to take the "guilty until proven innocent" stand and if they got into trouble, don't expect me to come bail you out. Cause more often than not, there is some aspect of truth behind a lot of things that kids might get accused of doing. That daughter once was accused of making a comment about the parent of two neighbor kids and the parent came stomping to our house to confront me and my ex about the kid's behavior. Now, that parent had a rep for never seeing anything her kids did as ever being wrong so I sent my ex out to talk to her because I would probably have lost my temper. He listed to her and when she left, came in and had a talk with the girl, telling her behavior like that was unacceptable, etc. The kid kept telling us over and over that she'd never said what she was accused of doing. Yeah, right -was more my attitude. That was 30 some years ago and about 2-3 years ago, the daughter 'fessed up to me then that yes, she had said what the other parent accused her of saying.
    And what was it she'd said? Well, seems she'd told the other kids their mother was Fat! Sadly, the mother is morbidly obese and to be honest, I felt she should just have looked in a mirror but also that if the kid had said that, she needed to learn a little thing called "tact." Now, if I'd ever confronted her with some of the things her kids had done, you can be sure she'd have come at me in a mega defensive mode. And, I know my kids are no saints but...

    By Blogger Jeni, at 4:45 AM  

  • I concur wholeheartedly. When I was reading about that horrible rape down in Florida (where the mother was forced to have oral sex with her 12 year old son), some of the mother being interviewed were talking about how their kid “Wasn’t a bad kid” etc., same thing with Bobby Cutts’ family after the mother of his child and unborn child was found dead and he was arrested.

    I truly wonder if seeing ones children as just “less than saints” as opposed to seeing the monsters that they have become is a predicate to these children being formed into criminals and sociopaths?

    By Anonymous DJ Black Adam, at 4:41 PM  

  • We used to live in a court with about 4 other families who had children. One of the kids was about 5 years older than our eldest child at the time. That older child belted our then 6 year old Nicholas. I promptly told him off. Later on, his mum comes over and says, "My son would never do such a thing, he is good boy". I looked at her incredulously, and said, "Look lady, kids can lie, and I know my boys and the other kids in the street are not telling one.. get your kid under control, he is NOT welcome here again".
    I won;t have lying kids here and I wont have lying adults here...and as I say to my kids, "Liars go to jail".

    I can safely say that what works with kids and with adults is positive reinforcement...forever praise the good behaviours!!

    By Blogger Cazzie!!!, at 7:46 PM  

  • if I did anything in that realm, I think my mom would smack me upside the head!

    By Blogger Claudia, at 7:27 PM  

  • The Un-Suspected Truth about War on Words

    For years, the City of Cleveland has suffered tremendous downfalls and illnesses within our communities. From deteriorating neighborhoods, drugs, crack houses and gangs. Prior to this some wards in our city carried positive reputations for cleanliness, great schools and safe neighborhoods where our children could play without weary, and seniors joyfully sat on their porches reading newspapers with perhaps a cold glass of lemonade. But somewhere, some how this once booming city for greatness began to turn evil. Some folks blame this turn on the current “thug culture” blaming parents while at the same time hollering loudly “its takes a village to raise a child” while others who have the ability to dig deep and think observe the political climate of which this city must endure.

    Recently Councilman Michael Polensek of ward 11 wrote an atrocious and vile letter to a suspected drug dealer, Arsenio Winston. Media coverage was massive after Winton’s mother Tonya Lewis took the letter to local media outlets hoping to get support but instead she got “beat down” verbally by some media outlets as well as a very small portion of community residents. With the city of Cleveland having nearly a population of 450,000, one could hardly say that most folks agree with his tactics when he (according to Polensek) has received a mere 1500 letters (emails) of support. This is less than .005 percent of Cleveland’s population.

    As this story was unleashed, Polensek received national attention for his tough talk of trash talking, disrespect and name calling. Polensek boast about telling an 18 year old drug dealer that if he doesn’t change his ways then he would end up in jail or a cemetery and according to Polensek he could care less about which one of the two come first. Because of the “thug culture” and lack of leadership within our communities, people applauded Polensek simply because of his tough talk and fed-up attitude about the very few young folks who appear to have very little respect for themselves and their neighborhoods. I must add that I too was happy with Polensek’s boldness and apparent leadership, but then my brain began to actually work.

    As I repeatedly watched Fox 8 news, I kept hearing Polensek brag about his 29 year old political career as councilman of ward 11. When Polensek initially became councilman of this ward there were very few to no blacks in this community. The Collinwood community was a place where crime and poverty was few so Polensek did not have to use a matter of severe – demeaning recourse to handle neighborhood thugs. If and when youth decided not to be manner-able to adults and authority personnel, they were easily reprimanded by their parental advisors. But since then the community has changed.

    The unsuspected truth about “war on words” is this:
    1. Polensek has been a city council member for approximately 29 years in ward 11
    2. As council man, it is part of his job to take an active role in maintaining a neighboring and safe environment for all constituents in ward 11
    3. As a councilman for 29 years, Polensek watched ward 11 deteriorate day by day
    4. As councilman for 29 years, Polensek watched drugs enter ward 11
    5. As councilman for 29 years, Polensek watched drugs develop in ward 11
    6. As councilman for 29 years, Polensek watched drugs manifest in ward 11
    7. As councilman for 29 years, Polensek watched the culture of ward 11 change from mostly whites to now – majority blacks
    8. As councilman for 29 years, Polensek watched the drugs take hold of black families and youth in ward 11
    9. As councilman for 29 years, Polensek watched the “thug culture” move in while blacks began to poison one another through illegal drug distribution, and black families began to disrupt in ward 11
    10. As councilman for 29 years, Polensek didn’t care about the erosion of the black family institution until the drugs and “thug culture’ began to affect the white family institution in ward 11
    11. As councilman for 29 years, Polensek now witness white families and their youth being influenced by the “thug - drug culture” in ward 11
    12. As councilman for 29 years, once white families began to speak out and threaten to flee ward 11 or simply “get rid” of Polensek now that their children are being affected Polensek decides enough is enough in ward 11

    The war on words between Polensek and Winston was not about a young black boy selling drugs in ward 11. The war on words was not about a racist! Polensek does not appear to be a racist! Polensek is what most see as “today’s” example of a politician – a community leader? The war on words was about a councilman saving his job. The war on words was about a culture of disrespect “thug culture” in a community where white people have become fed up with their council person after seeing their own children and grandchildren began to exemplify behaviors of which America has decided to characterize as being “Black”, “a piece of trash” and “worthless”. Unfortunately and fortunately, Arsenio Winston got what he deserved – a second chance depending on how you examine the situation. At any rate if nothing else, I take a notable review of any leader in this city for taking a risk to improve the community one block at a time no matter what the reason behind the cause of “action”. Let’s take the “ist” out of racist and replace it with “the letter E” which will then spell race – and focus on how we can all improve the “Human Race” to make the City of Cleveland great again!

    Kimberly F. Brown
    2005 Mayoral Candidate
    Cleveland, Ohio

    By Anonymous Kimberly F. Brown, at 1:46 PM  

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