Monday, December 29, 2008

A Winter Hell

Today on "Zeb at the Ranch," Zeb Bell and several of his callers were up in arms regarding the story out of Jerome where an eleven-year old girl died of hypothermia Christmas day when she, her brother, and father were stranded in a blizzard and she and her brother got out of the car and attempted to walk the ten miles to her mother's home.

Zeb and crew were in full-force attack mode against the father of the young girl as he sits in a Lincoln County jail cell charged with second degree murder and two felony counts of child endangerment, definitely not listening to the talk radio show and definitely beating himself up for something he will never put behind him.

One caller even attempted to depict the Aragon family as illegal immigrants from Mexico who have no understanding of the extreme weather in Idaho and shouldn't be here in the first place.

The problem with what was said on Zeb's show this morning isn't that people are noticeably and vocally upset with what happened in Jerome on Christmas, the problem is that cases like this occur all over the country every day, they may not turn out with the death of a child from hypothermia, but they leave scars on children and families.

Instead of beating up Mr. Aragon for something he will do a number on himself for over the next, oh, lifetime, and degrading the entire Aragon family for this tragedy, wouldn't it be a better idea to address the issue of abuse and neglect outright?

For those familiar with child abuse and neglect statistics, it should come as no surprise that reported cases of abuse are on the rise in our troubled economy. Reports in the Washington Post this morning show that in one Virginia county, for example, cases of child neglect hit 111 from July through October of this year, a 152% rise from the same July through October period one year ago. The Post points out:
The well-established nexus between poverty and child abuse is reason for many child experts to be concerned that the country might see more neglect and abuse as the recession deepens.
Child abuse and neglect is not only on the rise in economic turmoil, statistically highest in the working class, but is also rising this time of year due to typical holiday stresses. Several child abuse prevention organizations offer tips for parents to survive the stresses of the holidays without resorting to violence.

The problem with the assumption that the stress of holidays and a down economy causes violence is that child abuse isn't simply the act of assaulting a child and is more often than not does not result in death. While it is both right and human to react to the tragedy in Jerome as Zeb and his callers did, it is not right to react so bombastically to the death of a young child, while turning a blind eye to hundreds of children in situations just as dangerous.

Mr. Aragon wasn't known for being negligent with his children. He wasn't a bad father. And he'd never been known to purposely hurt them before. There are plenty of children out there in situations as grave who have suffered a hell unimaginable while communities quietly talk, but carefully ignore parents known to be inflicting abuse.

While listening to Zeb and his callers this morning, my mind went to a quote from Dante that I was asked to memorize in a high school history class when I was sixteen: "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality." If the abuse and neglect of a child does not constitute a moral crisis, I don't know that anything does.

My thoughts are with the Aragon family now as they cope with a loss I cannot comprehend. And it is my sincere hope that the tragic decision of Mr. Aragon to allow his young children to brave the southern Idaho wind, snow, and cold Christmas day will resonate with parents everywhere; that it will be a lesson to he and those who hear his story, that one moment of neglect, one blow, can and will end in both tragedy and heartache. Instead of publicly ridiculing a man who is undoubtedly broken, let us take this opportunity to acknowledge that this and other such abuses of children happens every day in this country and we're doing far too little about it.


Anonymous said...

uggh. nice post, rowe.

Anonymous said...

For PG readers;
For you;
sorry I don't know how to make the link things.