Eyewitness Testimony: What Happens When You Do Not See What You Thought You Saw

May 5, 2015

By: Carla Vestal

Earlier this year, there was a dress that had everyone on the internet up in arms, and no, it was not something a reality television person was wearing. The most talked about dress this year was from the online retailer Roman Originals and the question asked was, “What color is the dress?” Some people looked at the image and saw gold and white. Others looked at the dress and saw black and blue. When a picture of the dress was placed in Photoshop, the picture-altering program labeled it as both, white and gold and black and blue! Personally, the picture entertained me for a few hours because sometimes I saw blue and black and other times the alternate. I would look at the picture seeing white and gold, close my eyes, count to three, reopen my eyes and see black and blue.

Other than this image being a cool optical illusion online, I began to question, “How much should you trust your own eyesight?” Or, more importantly, “How much weight should be placed on eyewitness testimony in criminal trials?” Black’s Law Dictionary defines eyewitness testimony as “a statement given under oath by a witness.” Simple enough. But, what if our eyes, like in viewing the now most famous dress of this decade, aren’t as trustworthy as we think they are?

How long have our eyes been playing tricks on us?

Critics have questioned eyewitness testimony as early as the 1900s, and major criminal defense advocates, such as the Innocence Project, claim that “eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful convictions, playing a role in about 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing nationwide.” The raw numbers indicate some other troubling data. The most current data on wrongful convictions cite that, of the 318 cases overturned, 72% were overturned due to bogus eyewitness testimony. That is an astounding 229 innocent people who have been sentenced to prison because of what later turned out to be erroneous eyewitnesses. And that is not all that happened because of this faulty testimony. While the innocent were serving sentences for crimes they did not commit, the real perpetrators, who have been identified in 90 of these cases, were out committing more crimes: 63 rapes, 17 murders, and 18 other violent crimes.

Do people of different races all look alike?

Our perceptions of people who look differently than we do is called the “cross-race effect.” The cross-race effect asserts that people of the same race are better able to recognize faces of the same race than the faces of people who are of a different race. In a study by Behrman and Davey in 2001, 271 police cases were analyzed and the results showed that people of the same race correctly identified the suspect 65% of the time, whereas, only 45% of the witnesses were able to correctly identify the suspect if the suspect were of another race.[1] The theory behind this disparity is, regardless of race, people share an ingroup advantage with members of the same race. This ingroup advantage allows people of the same race to process facial features of their own group in a more holistic manner than when looking at a person of a different race. When observing a person of a different race, an individual recognizes characteristics that are attributable to that race as a whole. The consequence of this cross-race effect causes disparity when people witness a person of another race committing a crime, because it is more likely that the witness will misidentify the suspect due to the decreased ability of different races to identify the facial characteristics of another race’s face.

The brain does not remember what the eyes see

Vision is composed of three distinct, yet highly interdependent phases: sensation, attention, and perception. The first step of sensation is detecting light and basic shapes. Sensations are ephemeral and a very small amount of what is sensed is perceived. Attention is the process used by the visual system to send selected information that has been sensed for further processing. Perception is when the attended sensations are linked to “environmental cause, made coherent, and categorized through the assignment of meaning, utility, value, and emotional valence.” Memories and emotions from prior experiences also interweave within these new images, adding value and meaning to the individual.[2]

When analyzing how vision works, it is equally important to consider how vision works in relation to distance. People who identified as having “good eyesight” could not see the eyelashes on a person from ten feet away. When 200 feet away, the eyes themselves blur, and at 500 feet, no recognizable facial features can be ascertained. Other factors that have been found to affect the witness include the amount of stress involved, weather conditions, noise levels, and if a weapon had been used.

The memory itself is not stored in one part of the brain, but is recalled through the activation of several parts of the brain that work together. For example, the emotion that a memory brings is stored in one area of the brain, and the content of the memory is stored in another place. Hormones help engrave memories in our brains and then those same hormones categorize new experiences based on old ones. Adding to the matrix of how vision and memory work, “there are between 200 and 400 billion neurons in the brain and each neuron has about 10,000 connections.” Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist Gerald Edelman, Ph.D., sums memory up as the ability to repeat a performance – with mistakes.

How mistakes are added into a memory and how false memories are made

Memory is malleable, so malleable in fact, that studies have shown in studies that memories can be recalled by 25% of people who have never had the experience by mere suggestion and non-verbal clues given by others. Studies show that witnesses will pick the wrong suspect out of a line-up 25% of the time, and when the suspect is absent from the line-up the witnesses will pick an innocent person more than 33% of the time. Witnesses pick-up on nonverbal communication from the officers conducting the line-up when the officer knows the suspect is present, regardless of whether it is the correct person or not. Thus, this solidifies the witness’s choice and the witness becomes more confident in the identification. As litigators know, a confident eyewitness on the stand, regardless of whether the witness is correct or not, has a great impact on a jury.

The court and science come together

Over the past 30 years, there have been hundreds of sociological studies performed to test the reliability of eyewitness testimony and to determine what factors, if any, influence the brain’s recall system and the witness’s self-affirmance of what she or he may have experienced. The New Jersey Supreme Court in 2011 made a landmark decision where it reviewed a special master record of 300 exhibits and 200 scientific studies in the case of State of New Jersey v. Henderson. The court decided that when studying eyewitness testimony,2 groups should be identified: “estimator variables” and “system variables.”

Estimator variables are things that cannot be controlled by the criminal justice system. Examples of estimator variables are the amount of light between the alleged and the distance between the witness and alleged perpetrator. Things that the criminal justice system can and should control for are system variables. System variables include procedures such as how law enforcement retrieves and stores witness testimony, how it conducts line-ups, photo arrays (six-packs), and instructions given to witnesses when participating in identification procedures. State of New Jersey v. Henderson, 27 A.3d 872 (N.J. 2011).

What can be done to improve the system used?

From the scientific evidence that supports the fallibility of eyewitness testimony and the decision rendered in Henderson, there are several methods that can be used to ensure that innocent people are not identified through eyewitnesses. For example, blind administration of the officer conducting line-up, where the officer conducting the procedure does not know who the alleged suspect is, would greatly reduce the non-verbal communication signals the witness may interpret as positive feedback. Also, when using fillers in line-up composition, the fillers should resemble the description on the person given by the witness, and the same fillers should not be used in multiple line-ups. This would reduce the likelihood that seeing the same person multiple times would implant a false recognition in the eyewitness’s memory. Other improvements would allow for the identification process to be recorded; eyewitnesses would memorialize their own confidence level in the identification made; and the conducting officer would tell the witness that the suspect may or may not be in the line-up, and the investigation will continue regardless of the outcome. During the investigation process, implementation of these procedures would lessen misidentification. The lack of these processes being used gives the defense an opportunity to attack the eyewitness’s identification during a trial. If the procedures were implemented nationwide they would protect innocent people from overzealous police and prosecutors, thus helping to ensure that a suspect will have a fair trial.

But what color is the dress?

The designers have confirmed the dress is blue and black.

To learn more about eyewitness identification, vision processing and how the brain stores memories visit:

http://www.innocenceproject.org/

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/dna/photos/eye/text_06.html

 

 

[1] B. W. Behrman & S. L. Davey, Eyewitness Identification in Actual Criminal Cases: An Archival Analysis, 25 Law & Hum. Behav. 475 (2001).

[2] Comm. on Scientific Approaches to Understanding and Maximizing the Validity and Reliability of Eyewitness Identification in Law Enforcement and the Court et al., Identifying the Culprit: Accessing Eyewitness Identification 46-47 (2014).


Charlotte Fails to Protect People by Rejecting Non-Discrimination Policies

April 7, 2015

By: Carla Vestal

On March 2, 2015, Charlotte City Council (“the Council”) voted on an ordinance that would allow all people to be treated equally and fairly under the law. Unfortunately, the Council failed to adopt these much needed policies that would prohibit private businesses and certain public positions, such as for-hire transportation and city contractors, from freely discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.

The final vote came down to 1 single vote, as it ended up 6-5. This single vote came after hours of debate from both sides of the aisle, and at that point the controversial bathroom portion of the ordinance was already stricken. The bathroom portion of the ordinance would have allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom of the gender in which they identify themselves. This was the most controversial piece of the policy, and even though it was removed it seems that certain members of the Council still used it to vote against what was being presented. “All over the world, there are restrooms for men and restrooms for women,” said Ed Driggs, a Republican Council member. “It does not place an unreasonable burden on them and it does not stigmatize them.”   Another Republican Council member, Kenny Smith, asserted that the bill was not a measure to stop discrimination, but to “impose the progressive left’s new morality on our citizens.”

Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer.

Opponents to the policy at the Council hearing. Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer.

When discrimination is discussed in the government, it should not become an issue of alleged morality. Discrimination in and of itself is immoral. Discrimination is prohibited by the United States Constitution by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and applied to the states through the Incorporation Doctrine of the Fifth Amendment. It is simple–and yet disturbingly difficult–for people who oppose equality under the veil of a religious responsibility to do so.

Jason Arter, a current Clinic student, attended the meeting and shares his first-hand account of the spectacle at the Government Center that day. Mr. Arter informs us that, “[The scene] was about religion, and the damnation that is going to occur. . . not just for those in favor of the ordinance, but also for those that have selected to be comfortable with who they are, in whatever gender they feel most comfortable expressing themselves.” Mr. Arter also reveals that the Council members opposing the ordinance insisted on continuing to make links between bathroom usage, homosexuality, and pedophilia even after the bathroom portion was stricken from the vote. When asked about how he felt after the vote, Mr. Arter has a very strong opinion to share, “Community members should be outraged, not just that the ordinance failed, not that those who are elected failed to fairly represent all members of a community, but that religion has yet again dictated the course of the future for all members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community instead of the government.”

The question remains: “Why would Charlotte not want to join to rest of the country in passing these protections?”

Out of the country’s twenty largest cities by population, Charlotte is one of three that does not have in place non-discrimination policies. The other cities that join Charlotte are Memphis, TN and Jacksonville, FL. Throughout the country seventeen states and over 200 municipalities have non-discrimination policies in place to protect people who identify as LGBTQ. While visiting Charlotte, Vice President Joe Biden addressed the Human Rights Campaign Spring Equality Convention on March 7, 2015. During his speech he urged that the entire country needs to pass non-discrimination policies that protect the LGBQT community and stressed that those policies need to be passed now.  Biden also affirmed his support for a “federal non-discrimination . . . bill that is expected to include protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, education, jury service and federal funding.” The bill is expected to be introduced to Congress this spring.

If you feel that Charlotte should join the rest of the country in protecting all people from discrimination, continue to reach out my emailing and calling your city leaders:

Mayor Dan Clodfelter
704-336-2241
mayor@charlottenc.gov

Mayor Pro Tem Michael D. Barnes
704-509-6141
barnesforcharlotte@gmail.com

Claire Green Fallon
704-336-6105
cfallon@charlottenc.gov

David Howard
704-336-4099
info@davidhowardclt.com

Vi Lyles
704-336-3431
vlyles@charlottenc.gov

Patsy B. Kinsey
704-336-3432
pkinsey@charlottenc.gov

Al Austin
704-336-3185
aaustin@charlottenc.gov

LaWana Mayfield
704-336-3435
lmayfield@charlottenc.gov

Gregory A. Phipps
704-336-3436
gaphipps@charlottenc.gov

John N. Autry
704-336-2777
jautry@charlottenc.gov

Kenny Smith
704-574-7241
krsmith@charlottenc.gov

Edmund H. Driggs
704-432-7077
ed@eddriggs.com

When fair-minded people join together anything is possible!


Mumia Abu Jamal: A Lesson in Murder, Race, Police Brutality, Political Dissent and a Commencement Speech in Vermont

March 5, 2015

By: Carla Vestal

Mumia Abu Jamal, described by the New York Times as “perhaps the world’s most famous death row inmate” was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner in 1981. He was sentenced to death for the crime, and spent the next thirty years living in isolation on Death Row. The latter ten of those thirty years, he spent isolated on Death Row even though a Federal Court judge overturned his death sentence in 2001. Currently, Mumia is still in prison under a life without parole sentence, and living in general population. So, why is this convicted cop killer giving a graduation speech via a pre-recorded phone call to a class from a Vermont college?

Philadelphia, 1981

Philadelphia during the early 1980’s was a city plagued with racial tensions. Just two years before the death of Officer Faulkner, the United States Department of Justice had filed a federal lawsuit against the city’s mayor, Frank Rizzo, and other city officials for condoning police brutality. The suit claimed that in the years 1975-1979, 290 persons had been shot by the Philadelphia police force. During Rizzo’s tenure as mayor, fatal shootings by the police department had increased annually by 20 percent. When Rizzo left office in 1980, fatal shootings decreased by 67 percent. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives Sub-Committee on Crime and Corrections found that the police force lacked internal leadership and that cops frequently engaged in acts of “lawlessness.”[1] [2]

During this time in the city, there was a growing political movement called MOVE. MOVE is described by CNN as a “a loose-knit, mostly black group whose members all adopted the surname Africa, advocated a ‘back-to-nature’ lifestyle and preached against technology.” In 1978, the police began a siege of a house that was occupied by MOVE members. Although it remains disputed who fired the first shot, a Philadelphia police officer was fatally wounded during the hostilities. As television cameras filmed the members of MOVE surrendering to police, the cameras also caught an officer striking the leader of the MOVE political group, Delbert Africa, in the head with the butt of his shotgun as he dragged his body through the street while other officers repeatedly kicked him. The very next day officers had the house bulldozed; completely destroying the crime scene. MOVE members that surrendered to the police that day were charged with third-degree murder, conspiracy, and aggravated assault; all were found guilty and sentenced from thirty to 100 years in prison.[3]

The Shooting

Mumia, born Wesley Cook, was active within the MOVE organization. In his youth, he was involved with the Black Panther party until 1970. It was at this time, when he was a fifteen year old high school student, that he was put under surveillance as part of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program, COINTELPRO. This program was operated in conjunction and with the cooperation of the Philadelphia police department.   Later in his life, Mumia was a popular radio journalist. He was also the President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. Often his stories were critical of the police department and other city leaders. At the time of his arrest for the murder of Officer Faulkner, he also drove a cab to earn extra money.

Photo courtesy of National Lawyers Guild.

Photo courtesy of National Lawyers Guild.

At almost 4:00 a.m. on the morning of December 9, 1981, Officer Faulkner stopped a car driven by Mumia’s brother, William Cook, and a passenger nicknamed, “Poppi”.[4] A struggle was occurring between Cook and Faulkner as Mumia, on his shift as a cab driver, happened to drive by. Moments later, as other officers are arriving, Faulkner was dead with two gunshot wounds to his head and back. Mumia sat on the curb with a gunshot from the officer’s gun to his chest, and his legally owned and registered hand-gun a few feet from him on the ground. Mumia and his brother were arrested. Cook was released a couple of days later. Mumia was charged with first degree murder and possession of an instrument of crime.

The Trial and the After Effects

Mumia’s trial began in June 1982, in the midst of heavy media coverage. The interest remains today—a general Google search of “Mumia Abu Jamal trial” brings back 182,000 hits. Proponents of Mumia claim that the adjudication process was fraught with grave injustices to Mumia’s protected civil rights of having a fair and unbiased trial and these concerns were confirmed by the report from Amnesty International. Opponents of Mumia assert that the trial was conducted in an honorable fashion and the initial sentence of death was the correct result.

Mumia has had his death warrant signed two times in the course of post-conviction appeals. In December 2001, the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania upheld the conviction, but vacated the death sentence because egregious errors during the sentencing portion of the original trial. In particular finding, “the jury instructions and verdict sheet in this case involved an unreasonable application of federal law. The charge and verdict form created a reasonable likelihood that the jury believed it was precluded from considering any mitigating circumstance that had not been found unanimously to exist.” Mumia continued to live in solitary confinement, confined for twenty-three hours a day on Death Row for ten years, despite having his death sentence confirmed unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. He was finally moved into the general prison population in December of 2011.

Goddard College and the Restriction of Speech

Goddard College is not the run-of the mill institute of higher learning. Students do not have a set schedule, textbooks or a syllabus. Faculty and students meet on campus only twice a year for two weeks at a time and students are “encouraged to question received knowledge and the status quo and to create new understandings of the world and of human experience.” Goddard College is also where Mumia began his college education in the late 1970’s, and where he later finished his degree while serving time on Death Row.

Photo courtesy of Goddard College.

Photo courtesy of Goddard College.

The latest graduating class of Goddard, which consisted of 20 students, unanimously voted to have Mumia as their commencement speaker. The class cited that they wanted Mumia to speak for his “ability to think critically and radically.”

Police and supporters took to the streets of Philadelphia to protest the speech by standing in silence at the spot Officer Faulkner was shot for thirty minutes to “drown out the voice of Mumia Abu Jamal.”

And that is not all the supporters did to try to silence Mumia once more: Pennsylvania state legislators introduced HS 2533, which amends the Crime Victims Act of 1998, by allowing a district attorney in the county were a “personal injury” crime had occurred or by allowing the Attorney General, after conferring with said district attorney, to institute a cause of action against an offender whose actions “perpetuates the continuing effects of the crime on the victim.” The bill defines actions that perpetuates the continuing effects of the crime on the victim as “conduct that creates a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish on the victim.”

Impact on the First Amendment

HS 2533 severely restricts any person ever convicted of a personal injury crime from exercising the freedom of speech found in the First Amendment. This bill does not account for the severity of the crime, the nature of the circumstances surrounding the crime, the length of time from when the crime was committed until the person does any type conduct which creates mental anguish in the victim. That is because not one of those factors matter when addressing rather or not an offender can communicate. The bill restricts all forms of speech the offender can engage in rather it is related to the crime or not.

When Mumia delivered the commencement speech to Goddard via a pre-recorded message accompanied by a slideshow, he never spoke of the crime of which he has been convicted. He never spoke about Daniel Faulkner, Faulkner’s widow, the police, his trial or any other related topic to the controversial episode that occurred back in December 9, 1981. He simply spoke.

Mumia spoke of finding one’s passion in life and following that passion. He spoke about education and how education is the key to expanding the mind, to cultivate awareness and to make change in oneself. He spoke about the perils around the world and how the world desperately needs new ideas to eradicate old problems. Mumia cited classic literary works like the Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and works of John Dewy. Social change and social transformation is what Mumia impressed upon the graduates of Goddard by telling those listening, “That your job is not to get a job. Your job is to make a difference.”

The issue that remains is not whether or not Mumia killed Faulkner, or whether Mumia got a fair trial; those opinions are for the reader to decide once he or she reviews all of the facts. The court in Pennsylvania holds that he did; thus he remains in incarcerated. The very act of Mumia still being alive is causing the victim, Faulkner’s widow, mental anguish. By HS 2533’s vague and broad standard that alone is enough to ask for a permanent injunction against Mumia. But an injunction against Mumia from doing what? Being alive? How can you place an injunction on someone’s life?

The question is when can the government silence an offender, incarcerated or not, because people do not like what that person is saying or doing. The answer is never. But it is happening. It is happening to Mumia because he spoke about making the world a better place. It is happening to federal prisoners who want to challenge their convictions by prison officials censoring the Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook. A conviction of a crime does not simply obliterate a person’s constitutional rights.

And that is the beautiful thing about the country in which we live. All people get to have a voice. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not; it doesn’t matter if you like it or not; and it doesn’t matter what color a person may be; or what religion a person may practice; or where a person may fall on the social hierarchy; or what crime the person may have committed. It shouldn’t matter, but oh, how it does.

[1] For an in-depth analysis on the case of Mumia Abu Jamal see Amnesty International’s full report: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR51/001/2000/en/0987a185-dfd3-11dd-8e17-69926d493233/amr510012000en.pdf.

[2] For the response to the Amnesty International’s report from Faulkner’s representatives: http://danielfaulkner.com/docs/response.pdf.

[3] “A similar incident occurred in 1985, when a stand-off developed between police and members of MOVE. The siege was ended when a police helicopter dropped an incendiary device on the house, killing 11 of its occupants, including six children (only two occupants survived). The device also started a fire that destroyed over 60 houses in the predominately black area. In 1995, a federal jury awarded MOVE members $1.5 million after determining that the city of Philadelphia had violated their constitutional right to protection against unreasonable search and seizure when the police dropped the bomb.” (Amnesty International Report, 4).

[4] It is disputed by the prosecution that this person even exists.


The Low-Down on the Beat-Down: How Corporal Punishment is Damaging Our Children and Continuing Racial Discrimination

January 13, 2015

By: Carla Vestal

Events within the National Football League (NFL) have once again brought up an age old argument: How should parents and schools discipline children?  Within the past weeks, you may have heard a friend or family member say, “I was whooped and I deserved it,” “No-one is going to tell me what to do in my home with my kids,” “The Bible says, ‘Spare the rod. Spoil the child,’” or other similar remarks.

The effect of corporal punishment is far more than the immediate physical pain a child will feel.  Corporal punishment breeds a culture of violence, has been directly linked to mental and emotional health issues, and continues a legacy of racial discrimination in the South.

What is Corporal Punishment?

Corporal punishment is defined as, “the infliction of physical pain upon a person’s body as punishment for a crime or infraction . . . In a broad sense, the term also denotes the physical disciplining of children in the schools and at home.”  Spanking, whooping, whipping, and paddling are all forms of corporal punishment.  Often times this type of action is carried out by the adult using their hands, belts, switches, paddles, and, in extreme cases of abuse, electrical cords, spatulas, and wooden cutting boards.

What is the law?

All states allow parents to physically hit their child as long as the force used is considered “reasonable.”  When cases of corporal punishment become extreme enough to constitute abuse it is likely the Department of Social Services (DSS) or the court system will become involved.  In these instances what is “reasonable” varies by geographic region and community standards.

Currently, nineteen states allow for corporal punishment in the public school system.  Interestingly, the majority of these states are in the South and are commonly referred to as the “slave states” or the Bible Belt.[1]  In these states, corporal punishment is administered in a racially and ethnically biased manner which targets African American, Native American, and Special Education children.[2]

What do the statistics tell us?

Multiple national surveys of parents report almost identical results.  In one cross-sectional study from Child Trends, 77% of men and 65% of women agreed that corporal punishment is appropriate for children.  The results of a study conducted on North Carolina parents showed that 74% of North Carolinian mothers admitted to hitting a child under two-years old and 5% admitted to using corporal punishment on a child younger than three months old!

A comprehensive study conducted by the American Civil Liberty Union (“ACLU”) and Human Rights Watch concluded that in schools where corporal punishment is allowed, the punishment is administered in a racially biased manner.  African Americans make up roughly 17.1% of the public school population yet sustained 35.6% of reported corporal punishment.  Males were paddled more frequently than females, but African American girls were paddled at a rate of 2:1 to Caucasian girls.

Another alarming finding of the study dealt with students with disabilities.  Children who need special education services in Texas comprise only 10% of the student body yet received 17% of the beatings by school administrators.[3]

What is the science behind the spankings?

Empirical data analysis conducted over a twenty year span links physical discipline, in any form, to an increase in a variety of mental health issues which may not even develop until later in life.  Mood disorders, anxiety disorders, aggressive/violent tendencies, depression and bi-polar disease, and alcohol and drug addictions have all been linked with having been hit as a child.  It does not matter whether the corporal punishment rises to the level of abuse in a legal sense.  The injury to the child’s developing psyche occurs when hit with any force.[4]

In the school setting particularly, corporal punishment serves to legitimize violence.  Students have to suffer the humiliation and indignation of having other students know that they were forced to bend over a table or chair, sometimes with exposed buttocks, to get hit.  Peer-to-peer and student-to-teacher relationships erode.  As a result of the student’s lack of trust in educators, students withdraw academically.  This eventually leads to a higher drop-out rate in school districts that use paddling.

In either environment, corporal punishment changes the trajectory of brain development.  In layman’s terms, children who received corporal punishment have less grey matter in their prefrontal cortexes.  It is well-established that less grey matter in the prefrontal cortex is an indicator of mental and emotional psychosis.  This area of the brain is also responsible for cognitive development.  Researchers also have found a significant correlation between corporal punishment and lower IQ scores on standardized tests.  The end result of the study conducted by The National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health concluded that the grey matter children need to develop into mentally and emotionally healthy adults who exhibit self-control is being eroded with each strike of corporal punishment.  Corporal punishment has the exact opposite effect on children than what the discipline technique is intended to encourage.[5]

Why do parents and schools still use corporal punishment in spite of the scientific evidence against it?

The answer to this question has deep societal roots.  Many parents continue to spank and whip their children because, as children, they were subjected to corporal punishment themselves.  This is how the cycle of ineffective parenting and in extreme cases abuse is passed from generation to generation.

Elizabeth T. Gershoff, the nation’s leading advocate of alternative parenting techniques which do not include physically hitting a child, has concluded that corporal punishment is the result of lower educational levels in parents and geographic location.  Her research, which has spanned fifteen years, posits that corporal punishment in the South is a remnant of slavery and the concentration of conservative Christian religions.

When parents possess a college education, the use of corporal punishment in the home drops drastically from 55% to 38%.  This is due to the parents understanding the long term negative effects of spanking, having better coping techniques and using alternative methods of discipline.

Conservative Christian religions, which are heavily concentrated in the Bible Belt, often recite the “Spare the rod, spoil the child” mantra found in the Old Testament.  Focus on the Family, a conservative religion website, even goes so far as to teach parents how to hit their children without leaving evidence of bruising or welting of the skin and what type of “wooden spoon or paddle” to use.

http://www.fpnotebook.com/legacy/Peds/Prevent/CrprlPnshmnt.htm

Moving Forward and Repairing the Damage

As of now, corporal punishment will remain a choice for parents and schools.  As more of the public becomes educated about the adverse effects of physical punishment, parents will hopefully do some self-reflection and explore other avenues to help their children respect boundaries in the home and school.

Public school systems in the South should be open to review their policies on corporal punishment, to absorb the scientific data on its use in the academic setting, and examine the links between slavery and how societal norms across the country no-longer support paddling in schools.

It is a difficult endeavor to challenge parents to think differently about corporal punishment when they use religious convictions to justify its use.  However, this relates back to education and particularly scientific breakthroughs.  The often cited “Spare the rod, spoil the child” defense goes back to the time of Solomon (roughly 3,000 years ago).  Grey matter in brain development could not be monitored through MRIs 3,000 years ago as it is today.[6]

In the end, the use of corporal punishment will remain a heated debate among parents, educators, church groups and society in general. One thing is for sure: it is a personal choice that each person in the position to administer corporal punishment will have to weigh out in his or her consciousness.

If you feel that you have been subjected to extreme corporal punishment in the form of physical abuse, please contact your nearest police department immediately.

National Domestic Violence Hot-line: 1-800-799-7233

National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453)

[1] States that allow corporal punishment in the public school systems include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

[2] For statistics applicable to North Carolina: http://www.carolinaparent.com/articlemain.php?Who-s-Getting-Spanked-in-N.C.-Public-Schools-3299.

[3] For a more in depth analysis of special education and corporal punishment see: https://www.aclu.org/impairing-education-corporal-punishment-students-disabilities-us-public-schools-html.

[4] http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-me-in-we/201202/how-spanking-harms-the-brain

[5] For a meta-analytic review of how corporal punishment discourages positive long-term behavior and encourages a lack of self-realization see: http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-1284539.pdf.

[6] Interestingly, Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, went on to become a tyrant of a ruler whose subjects revolted against him.  He exhibited signs of extreme aggression and lacked empathy for his people.  “Whereas my father laid upon you a heavy yoke, so shall I add tenfold thereto.  Whereas my father chastised (tortured) you with whips, so shall I chastise you with scorpions.  For my littlest finger is thicker than my father’s loins; and your backs, which bent like reeds at my father’s touch, shall break like straws at my own touch.”  (1 Kings 12).  This adds weight to the scientific evidence that we have today that hitting children leads to anti-social behaviors and mental disease.


%d bloggers like this: