"Never," Big Mama said. "Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined a grown man do the right thing, discipline some little wannabe hoodlums by holdin' 'em for the authorities but be called a criminal hisself."
Then she added, "Child, take your readers outside that circular highway — whatcha call it, the Beltway? — and tell da story and the truth."
Well, when Big Mama dishes instructions, I follow — especially when the morals of a story are about self-defense, disciplining youngsters and how it takes, well, a village.
So here's the story from Clyde, N.Y., a village hard by the Erie Canal with a population of only a couple of thousand folks.
On the night of June 8, four young punks break into a house and vandalize it, primarily with hammers.
A next-door neighbor heard the goings-on, entered the home, which he is renovating for his father-in-law, and lo and behold, he catches the young intruders red-handed.
The neighbor, Jesse Daniels, gets hold of one of the hammers, corrals the vandals and shuts them in a closet while his wife calls 911.
When the police arrive, they sort out what happened and arrest the vandals — but they arrest Mr. Daniels, too, and charge him with four counts of child endangerment.
"See? See what I mean?" Big Mama exclaimed. "In my day, grown folk would've whoopped thay you-know-what, grabbed dem boys by thay scruff, and marched 'em home, where thay woulda got anotha whoopin'. But dat ain't what happened.
"The village got it right, but the law got it bassackwards," she said, leaning forward.
While I was growing up in D.C., some girlfriends and I learned that a young man — not a boy, but a young man — had just raped an adolescent friend. When we saw him strolling through the neighborhood, looking like Superfly and acting like he was the King of the Pimps, we tackled and held him down, while a youngster ran off to tell the neighborhood Big Mama, who called the D.C. police.
In the New York case, the four boys were 8 and 10 years old and apparently miffed because Mr. Daniels' wife had shooed them away earlier that day.
So here's the other rub: The boys' parents claim Mr. Daniels handled them too roughly and that he threatened them with the hammer.
"I understand they were in the wrong, but there are other ways to handle it," Paul Bowler, father to two of the boys, told a local radio station. "[Daniels] knew who the kids were. It's not like they were strangers. And send the kids home and call the cops then. You don't sit there and torment them and tell them you're going to bash their skulls in with a hammer."
Sorry, pops, but yes you do, especially since the boys were already bashing away.
The boys, because they are so young, are getting off rather mildly, being charged in family court with burglary and criminal mischief.
"I git it," Big Mama said. "Thay's only about 2,000 people in Clyde, so ain't many strangers around. But those boys crossed that line, that double yellow line, while dat man was tryin' to protect hisself and the property dim boys was bustin' up."
The hooligans had spray-painted graffiti derogatory to women on walls and busted windows and walls with the hammers.
"Fix up that place, dat's what thay parents and the f-a-m-i-l-y court should make 'em do over the summer," Big Mama suggested. "And Mister, Mr. Daniels, showed da parents how to discipline knuckleheaded boys, who shoulda been headin' toward the bed at 9 o'clock at night."
And, winking at the griot who passed the Clyde story her way, Big Mama said, "Dat'll take care of their 'how I spent my summer vacation' assignment."
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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