Hemelt: Parents allowed to discipline, but only to a point

Published 11:45 pm Friday, September 19, 2014

Parents across the United States should be able to discipline their children with methods including spanking, but there is a definite and obvious line where a third-party, judicial entity must be prepared to step in, and that fact is known in the River Parishes as much as any place in the nation.

It has nothing to do with race. It has nothing to do with geography. It has nothing to do with religious affiliation.

It has only to do with the safety of the child or children involved.

So when the rest of the nation, especially the sports world, focuses on NFL star Adrian Peterson, I think about M.L. Lloyd III.

Peterson is a millionaire athlete who has become the face of the national debate about spanking, because he was charged last week with abuse toward his 4-year-old son. Authorities say there were marks and bruises on the child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum following a disciplinary act performed by Peterson.

Parents maintain the right to discipline their children in this country without fear of government involvement, as much as children maintain the right to grow up within the confines of their home without fear a wrong move or word is going to result in a severe beating or worse.

This brings us back to the tragic story of M.L. Lloyd III, an 8-year-old Reserve boy who died in 2008.

His mother Tonya Victor and stepfather Errol Victor Sr. were found guilty Aug. 1 of manslaughter and second-degree murder, respectively. They were sentenced Monday, and their case is a reminder some parents go overboard all too often, putting their defenseless children in harm’s way.

I don’t know if Adrian Peterson was headed down a path to where the Victors arrived, which concluded six years ago with the death of M.L.

The young boy was pronounced dead at River Parishes Hospital on April 1, 2008. The Victors maintain the child died as a result of a severe asthma attack.

M.L.’s brother testified this summer that Errol Sr., with the help of some of his older sons, started disciplining M.L. March 31, 2008, for stealing ice cream.

The discipline included beatings, whippings and punches to the chest.

When asked by the prosecution when the abuse stopped, Toi Williams said, “when it was time to go to sleep.”

According to Williams, M.L. was awoken around 5 a.m. April 1 by Errol Sr., who dragged the boy out of bed to continue the beating.

M.L. would not live to see another morning.

As recent as this week, Tonya Victor and Errol Victor Sr. maintain they did nothing wrong.

It is with that shocking lack of perspective from the people who were charged most with maintaining the safety of M.L. that I know there remains a line parents often cross in this country in disciplining their children, and it’s up to law enforcement to step in and prevent more tragic deaths.

Adrian Peterson says he was using a switch on his son, using disciplinary methods molded closely on the practices he endured as a youth at the hands of his own father and mother.

He maintains: if it was done to me, why can’t I do it to my son?

To that, the answer is simple. Adrian, you are afforded the right to discipline your son in a manner you see fit. However, the second you put that child’s health at risk and quite possibly his life in peril, others must step in for the well being of the child.

I only wish someone would have stopped the Victors a day before M.L.’s beatings came to an end April 1, 2008.

Stephen Hemelt is general manager and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.