Sunday, March 1, 2015

Hypocrisy in Adrian Peterson case hides the sins of the whole country

Is it really a surprise that U.S. District Judge David Doty overturned the arbitrary decision by the pro-management arbitrator the NFL hired to hear Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson’s appeal of Roger Goodell’s trampling on his due process rights? But it was a “victory” only insofar that the judge ruled (as occurred in the Ray Rice appeal) that the NFL illegally imposed its “enhanced” punishment policy retroactively on the players. As ESPN’s Kevin Seifert noted,

“It now seems clear that the league overstepped its labor agreement in its haste to remove both Peterson and former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice from the public eye. If its strategy was to act first and deal with repercussions later, it has largely worked. Neither Rice nor Peterson got back on the field in 2014. Their legal victories can't change that. Now the NFL can move forward and (legally) use its enhanced personal conduct policy for all future incidents.”

This is clearly a violation of due process rights, but who cares if there is some public relations “gain” to made from it. The broader question is why out of all the occupations a person can hold, being a football player requires “enhanced” punishment from society. No one seems to want to answer that question, although there does seem to feed into the image of the sport as a particularly “male” occupation, thus a more tempting target for gender activists who see an opportunity to destroy a person’s life merely on an accusation. 

But there is a much wider question here that makes the hypocrisy on display just that much more obvious. Some of us older people remember that "old school" corporal punishment as a child was "accepted" and never questioned by society. I wouldn’t be surprised if Peterson learned this "skill" from his own parents, and his parents from their own. Furthermore, I think it is just hypocritical for the NFL to legislate "morals" when football itself is legalized violence (hockey is the same way). The civilian courts spoke, and the NFL should not pretend to be something that it isn't: An arbiter of "ethics" and "morality"—even if it is being forced upon it by hypocritical media paladins and advocates with their own agendas that do not bear too close examination. As I have observed, it seems that a certain category of adult is more “precious” than children in the eyes of the law, the media and certain advocacy groups. Andrea Yates—still residing comfortably in a Texas mental institution after being found “innocent for reasons of insanity” of the murder of her five children—is a case in point.

In barbarous, hide-bound Europe, corporal punishment is illegal in the home in Germany and Spain, but is still legal Britain and France. Can the U.S., with its mania with guns, at least claim that it is more “enlightened” than France and the UK? Would you be surprised to learn that physical punishment of children is legal in every state for a parent to employ? The only slight “exception” is Delaware, where such punishment counter-intuitively is not to cause “pain.” Elsewhere, court after court has ruled that laws prohibiting domestic violence do not prohibit parents from inflicting physical punishment on children meant to “restrain or correct” a child’s behavior. These laws are often vague and open to interpretation, using terms like “reasonable force” and not “excessive.” In every Southern state except Virginia, corporal punishment by teachers on children is also legal; it is also legal in Texas, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona and Idaho. 

In fact, truly excessive corporal punishment gravitating into "child abuse" did not evolve until influenced by the Dennis Jurgens case in Minnesota in the mid-1980s, who from the time he was adopted at age one until he died at the age of three-and-half, endured sustained and repeated “corporal punishment” at the hands of his adopted mother, Lois Jurgens, for what she perceived as his “faults.” These “punishments” including physically stuffing food down his throat, and making him eat his own vomit after such episodes. Yet when he was eating “too much,” Jurgens monitored how much he actually ate—to the point that a coroner would later find that Dennis was not only grossly underweight, but that he showed evidence of starvation. 

The “bad boy” as Jurgens explained her behavior deserved his frequent black eyes, but being “bad” as a toddler cannot explain Jurgens’ sadism in “punishing” his private parts. At a new autopsy performed on the remarkably well-preserved body, at the instigation of Dennis’ natural mother, Jerry Sherwood, 20 years after his death in 1965, found that besides evidence of bruising and laceration all over his body, his penis had what appeared to be “bite” marks, and there was scarring on his scrotum. To stop his supposedly frequent wetting of his diapers, an ordinary clothes pin was fastened to his penis to prevent annoying (for her) urine ejection. 

When Dennis died, the cause of death was listed as peritonitis. Because people assumed that “punishment” inflicted by a parent upon a child was “normal,” there was no attempt to delve further. But even though the first coroner was troubled enough to classify the death as “deferred,” no one could accept the thought that something much worse than “normal” had occurred in the Jurgens’ house, residing in a comfortably middle-class neighborhood.

Dennis wasn’t the only victim in that house. During a twenty-year period from the 1950s to the 1970s, Lois Jurgens was a serial abuser of a succession of adopted children, a story chronicled by Barry Siegel in his book A Death In White Bear Lake. Neighbors, family and friends knew or suspected what was happening, but did nothing. Why? Partly out of fear of the clearly psychotic Jurgens—who like many abusers see themselves as the “victim”—and the fact that corporal punishment in the home was considered a “normal” part of childrearing, and such matters were not a concern for those outside the home. In fact, the term “child abuse” as an illegal act is of relatively recent origin. Apparently corporal punishment only becomes a public “issue” if a star football player is caught doing it, and it can be used to advance someone’s political agenda.

Siegel wrote that Lois Jurgens seemed to have had psychological issues that caused incidents of hypochondria and mental unbalance, something rarely seen outside the home by neighbors who might empirically observe a diminutive woman who might seem incapable of hurting a fly. That is unless they insinuated anything untoward going on inside the Jurgens home, which elicited threats of violent retribution from her.  After concerns about her fitness of being an adoptive parent, several doctors who examined claimed to be unable to find anything physically wrong with her; however, one doctor at the Mayo Clinic interviewed her and had the following observation to make:

“A 26-year-old married woman with a long-standing psychoneurosis of the mixed type, starting back to childhood as evidence by enuresis (bed-wetting) until age 13, fears, nightmares, etc…It is fortunate that this woman has not been able to carry through pregnancy at this time as a child will only compound and complicate her emotional disturbance—she would be a poor candidate for adopting a child at this time…They cannot afford psychiatric care, which she desperately needs—she may without it go on to a paranoid schizophrenia.”

Yet the same doctor would later alter his verdict, saying that she had “improved” over time. The slightly-built Jurgens also fooled many social workers by the impeccably clean house she kept, which seemed to be an ideal home for children; ignored by those who ultimately made the decision—including those who allowed four siblings to subsequently live with the Jurgens merely because they agreed to take them all—was that this could be evidence that Jurgens was an excessive “stickler” for order and cleanliness, to the point of manic-obsession.

Even Lois Jurgens’ family and relatives were cautious about what they said in her presence, and her husband, Harold Jurgens, always seemed afraid of her and allowed her to dominate him. For people who find it difficult to believe that a woman can be so abusive that even a man much bigger than her can be cowed into fear and submission to her will, Siegel notes that  “Most of the time he sat in the background, his legs crossed, as if trying to avoid aggravating her. Those who had visited the Jurgens home swore Harold was not allowed to use the front door or the upstairs bathroom. If Harold wanted to go to a ball game after work, it was said he couldn’t go home first, for he’d never be allowed back out.” 

Why would he stay with her? It was the opinion of a psychiatrist named Richard Teeter who examined the Jurgens that Harold “has considerable resilience, warmth and tolerance. As such, the marriage is well-balanced and durable.” In other words, the husband was a complete supplicant to his wife’s desires and “issues.” 

The question of “acceptable” corporal punishment is how much is “necessary” to control a child’s occasionally unpredictable and contrary behavior. Discipline is one thing; a sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain and mental torture is quite another—particularly when there is no fear of physical retaliation from the child. In women, there it is often the “belief” that  they have been “victimized” by society in some fashion—an idea frequently expounded by the media, feminists and gender activists. In cases such as this, children are seen as an agent of oppression, and as such must be made to “pay” for their “crime.” They must “suffer” as she “suffers,” except this time she is the one who will be in control of the oppressing. Nevertheless, to adoption case workers Jurgens’ husband seemed amiable and eager to please, which would “mitigate” Jurgens’ excessive rigidity and inflexibility —not ideal characteristics for being a parent (let alone a spouse), but clearly not based on reality.

Because Lois Jurgens was personally examined by “objective” professionals seeking to gauge her fitness, in her case one can draw reasonably accurate inferences as to her personality in hindsight; unfortunately, such as is still the case today, there seems to be a blindness concerning the “motherly” instinct without the benefit of past experience. In the infamous case of Gertrude Baniszewski, she picked out one her teenage boarders, Sylvia Likens, to act out her “frustrations” on. But because she was technically not an adoptive parent, there was never any effort by professionals to evaluate her fitness. Instead, you have amateur psychologists like crime writer Denise Noe attempting to insinuate that Baniszewski was too “weak” to control to the actions of children who should know “right from wrong.” 

But who was the adult teaching them what is right and what is wrong? Baniszewski first poisoned immature minds against the attractive Likens to make her “deserving” of punishment, then engaged in dehumanizing “punishments” which became more and more sadistic, and then encouraged those who might have only saw it all as a “game”—cruel as it was—to actively participate in it in order to please (and avoid abuse themselves from) Baniszewski, who was ultimately every way.  But because Baniszewski was never subjected to a psychological examination, opinions on her abusive behavior run the gamut from tiresome gender victimology to the embodiment of pure evil.

How to “explain” Lois Jurgens? Siegel writes that she grew-up poor, was largely uneducated, and there were conflicting stories of whether she suffered excessive “corporal punishment” herself. But during her adult life, she lived a comfortable middle class existence, and apparently wanted many children to make her life “complete.” When she discovered that she could not conceive herself, the Jurgens opted for adoption—with the results duly noted. After Robert had been removed from their home upon the death of Dennis, the Jurgens fought to get him back. But Siegel writes that yet another doctor opposed it, citing Lois Jurgens as a “chronic neurotic” with a schizoid personality, self-centered and “lacking in insight”—which likely would be a life-long issue. She was becoming “more seriously neurotic” and could never “face the stresses and strains of raising a young boy.”

Unfortunately, this view was not universally held by those ultimately making the decisions, given that Jurgens was such a slight person that she seemed incapable of doing the things that others less sanguine had accused her of.  Notwithstanding doubts about the nature of Dennis’ death, Robert was eventually returned to the Jurgens. Four more adopted children from a family in Kentucky eventually followed; from personal experience, I was not amazed to read in Siegel’s book how it reached the point where the children lied to teachers and school counselors about where bruises came from out of fear of retribution, and were even afraid to go home after school. When they did, they “relaxed” when they saw that Lois Jurgens’ car was not there, and cringed when they saw that it was (again, this brings back memories of my own). If Jurgens was not home, they would have to wait outside, even in winter, until she returned. But what was worse was if she was home, for she would likely have spent more time roaming the house looking for things that in her opinion were “amiss”; if she found something, they would soon hear—or “feel”—about it. Jurgens was “Mommy Dearest” on steroids.

Siegel notes that Harold Jurgens would occasionally intervene on the children’s behalf, but he was too weak a personality for these interventions to be effective. The children sensed that he too was afraid of his wife. He would tell her not to get all worked-up, to not lose her cool, but she would just tell him to “shut up,” and he did. Jurgens had the conceit to avoid appearing to be the sole “heavy” in the family, occasionally tasking her husband to administer punishment; when she told him to take one of the boys down to the basement and inflict a whipping on him, he would administer the belt to his own leg while the boy would yell out. But when they came back, Jurgens would complain that the victim wasn’t hurt “bad enough” because there were no tears in his eyes.

But Siegel noted that Harold Jurgens would stop short of telling the children that his wife was completely wrong—they knew what made her angry, and they were wrong if they did it anyways. But otherwise he did little to stop what was happening; it has been suggested that “passive” people like himself derive “secondary gain” by allowing their mate to do the actually “acting” on their own “repressed anger,” although it is hard to make that accusation in this case.

Still, stories about Lois Jurgens’ abusive behavior occasionally leaked to social workers, and when  Jurgens was forced to  “voluntarily” go to a treatment facility for several weeks, home life became tolerable for the children, almost “normal.” When she returned, it was hoped that she had changed. Within hours it became clear she had not, in fact she was already finding fault everywhere. According to Siegel, a counselor at the treatment facility wrote that

“Lois denies and represses a great deal. In counseling and in group therapy Lois never became amenable to treatment, denying her need to change. She consistently blamed her childhood experiences, her mother and father, her husband and in-laws for her angry behavior. When she left treatment she continued to feel she had the ‘right’ to feel the way she does. In general, it was felt that the patient’s response to treatment was unsatisfactory.”

Ten days after her return, Robert ran away and appeared before a family court requesting that he be removed from the custody of the Jurgens. Soon after two more children ran away to hide out with a neighbor, and eventually all the children were removed from the Jurgens’ custody. 

Yet none of this was deemed a matter of the criminal courts, and it was only after the hounding of local media and law enforcement that Dennis’ natural mother forced a confrontation that led to Lois Jurgens’ eventually being forced to answer for his death 20 years earlier. Forensic pathologists who examined the coroner’s original photographs and Dennis’ exhumed remains agreed that he had been suffering in horrible agony for hours before he died, and it was apparent from rigor mortis that he had died at least ten hours before “help” was called for. It was also clear by the positioning of his arms that he had likely died not in his bed on his back as Lois Jurgens claimed, and somewhere else, probably on his stomach where his arms hung down. The injury that caused his peritonitis required him to be on a flat surface and struck by that was described as of “train wreck” intensity. 

We often hear “horror” stories about parents who caused injury by shaking a child, but Dennis’ life was one such episode after another, and no one did anything to stop it. Robert—who was five at the time—remembered that Dennis seemed to be punished much more often than he was; he also testified at Jurgens’ trial about the  incidents immediately preceding Dennis’ death: Not long before Dennis died, he saw Harold Jurgens having to help Dennis relieve himself in the bathroom, apparently due to this ongoing trauma. He also recalled awakening the morning of Dennis’ final day to horrible screams; he did not know if these came from Dennis or Lois Jurgens. He went into Dennis’ bedroom and saw Jurgens “looking over Dennis and hitting him on the back and grabbing and shaking him” for a long time. Jurgens was apparently very “angry” about something, but this was not unusual when it came to Dennis. Jurgens “then picked Dennis up and held him and then started to pound his back several times.” That night, he testified to seeing Dennis being thrown down the basement steps and repeatedly struck by Jurgens, and who then repeatedly submerged Dennis’ head in a laundry tub. This was perpetrated on a boy three-and-a-half years old

Robert did not recall seeing Harold Jurgens during this time. Although one should be cognizant of the fact that Robert was only five at the time and there are some minor discrepancies between his testimony and the medical evidence, there is no doubt that the condition that examiners found Dennis’ corpse in was beyond shocking, short of dismemberment, and there certainly were things that Jurgens had done to Dennis that Robert was not privy too.  Although Harold Jurgens defended his wife, he admitted that he was not at home when Dennis died, but in fact in another state when his wife called him to inform about a “problem” she had with Dennis the next day. 

The family doctor—who apparently had not found anything “wrong” with Dennis’ physical condition before—was called to examine him that night, but police were not informed until quite later. Lois Jurgens’ brother Jerome was in fact a police lieutenant and stated flatly that he was going to do whatever was necessary to keep his sister out of jail, and he apparently stole pertinent files and evidence that would have been extremely incriminating. But more in her favor, it simply could not be fathomed that such thing could happen in a “nice” neighborhood.

So there was a time when it simply was not believed that a parent could deliberately abuse a small child and cause their death, especially in a well-to-do environment. It is different than when a teenager like Likens suffers “punishment” that verges on torture and dies from it; it is more believable and takes more obvious effort on the part of the abuser. But with a child as young as Dennis who could never speak for himself, even when there was clear evidence of longstanding abuse, people would find rationalizations  for it—young children bruise more easily, are more likely to injure themselves, etc.), and they were just “bad” kids who would not learn to “behave.” 

As for Lois Jurgens herself, she was unrepentant to the end, rarely altering her impassive countenance during her trial as one witness after another testified to the abuses they “suddenly” remember witnessing against Dennis. She believed she had done nothing wrong, and saw everyone who testified against her as “evil.” Jurors held little regard for her husband, who “allowed” all of this to happen, although they couldn’t know his own psychology—and they didn’t see his wife still ordering him about even while she was being led away to prison—and some jurors actually felt “sorry” for her because of her alleged childhood abuses, and that she was now a “harmless old woman.” Yet they could not ignore the fact that Dennis had died so horrible death at her hands that it was clearly not explainable under any circumstance. In 1987, Jurgens was found guilty of murder in the third degree. But she would only serve eight years of her prison sentence, released for “good behavior.” She was fooling people to the very end.

For a long time there was an unwillingness to recognize deliberately-inflicted traumatic injuries to small children and infants by their parents. It was assumed that such events were “accidental,” caused by a drunken or incompetent parents. Siegel mentioned a case in 1960 at the Colorado General Hospital, where a pediatrician named Kempe repeatedly tried to convince a hospital psychiatrist to examine the parents of children brought into his ward who had severe injuries. In one case, a 3-month-old infant arrived in the emergency room with a broken femur and required immediate brain surgery for subdural hemorrhaging. A “pleasant and attractive” young woman who was his mother seemed impossibly “nice” and “normal” when discussing the case, when she was clearly responsible for the injuries.  As if to explain herself, she engaged in a speech about her own childhood, that her own mother regretting giving birth to her, and acted out her regret with fists and everyday household objects. What surprised listeners was that on the outside she seemed “normal” and not being asked the right questions seemed perfectly “sane” and “predictable” in her answers. 

But underneath the fa├žade was a very disturbed person who acted out on an infant what she remembered experiencing as an older child—and would continue to do so because that was how she was “taught” to discipline. It never occurred to her that despite the fact that she had been (allegedly) traumatized, she felt the need to inflict pain herself without considering how the child was traumatized in turn.

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