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October 2002 Editorial

    

Madelyne Toogood, Caught on Tape

I’m sorry—as a parent and a member of the human race, I cannot remain silent on this issue. While TheScreamOnline is primarily a journal for the Arts, which includes writings in many forms, I wish to address—no, rant—no, Scream—about the current-event issue of parenting. On Sept. 13, 2002, Madelyne Toogood was caught on surveillance video beating her four-year-old daughter in a department store parking lot in Mishawaka, Indiana. She has since been arrested and charged with felony battery, and her daughter has been taken away from her and placed in foster care. Toogood has pleaded innocent, saying she hit her daughter in the head and back and pulled her hair, but did not punch her (huh?—help me with this one!). The video was broadcast on news stations from coast to coast, and Ms. Toogood was quickly labeled “the most despised woman in the country.”

Before I get into the ethics of the situation, here are some facts on record: her husband, Johnny Toogood, a.k.a. “John Tuga,” a.k.a. “John James Clark,” has a criminal record dating back several years and spanning several states. 

In Philadelphia he ran a home-repair roofing scam that targeted elderly victims, and in 1998 he was charged with burglary, criminal trespass, theft, and conspiracy. Toogood pleaded guilty to deception and paid $7,000 in restitution to a 92-year-old victim. He stated in his confession that, “I’m down on my luck and I just needed money for my family. It’s not right that a lot of people make a lot more money. All the men in my family do this. This isn’t a violent crime.” He also admitted that these scams were how he made money and were a way of life among his relatives. In 1999 Toogood was arrested for the same crime in Whitefish, Montana. He jumped bail, but was re-arrested in Texas and sent back to Montana. His trial has been scheduled for early 2003.

Madelyne Toogood has complained that her family has been unfairly targeted because they are “Irish Travelers,” a secretive, nomadic group of 7,000 to 20,000 members that travel throughout North America performing odd jobs. Many local police department records show that they are known to pull home-repair scams and other petty confidence schemes.

The Toogood’s finances are currently under investigation as well. Madelyne recently had a 2000 Mercedes-Benz and a pickup truck registered in her name. The Toyota Sequoia SUV pictured in the surveillance videotape is registered to her brother-in-law. The Internal Revenue Service is very interested in these matters as well. It is likely that this sort of itinerant people who live by odd jobs and petty crime never file taxes, leaving the tax burden to the rest of us, yet they take advantage of the paved roads, street lights, and school systems that everyone else is funding. But that is another matter.

The Internet is already ablaze with websites carrying dialogs about interference with parenting, to hit or not to hit, invasion of privacy, and Big Brother surveillance cameras watching our every move. Darby Christopher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution admitted that “the video of [Madelyne] hitting and shaking four-year-old Martha Toogood is painful and frightening to watch,” but suggested that we all at some time have swatted our kids by paraphrasing Jesus, saying, “If there is a parent among us who without fear or hesitation would allow the world to view all of their parenting moments on videotape, may he or she cast the first stone.” (This was hardly all of Toogood’s parenting moments, it was one isolated incident in public. It’s chilling to think of what has happened in private.)

I was spanked as a child. Parents used corporal punishment in the 1950’s. If I was caught doing something “bad,” I received a painful spanking on the rear end, at home and in school—not blows to the head and back, and I certainly did not have my hair pulled.  Ms. Christopher suggests that all parents hit their kids in some manner, and only the guiltless should cast the first stone. Well, cast I will. My son is now 23 and I never hit him in any way. In fact, he was home schooled for grades 1-6, so he was around us a lot more than the typical system-schooled child, making the opportunities for “punishable situations” even greater. Yet we never laid a hand on him. That was our choice, and I have nothing against parents spanking their children in the proper manner. While we would never say we were the perfect parents, his mother and I at least had a modicum of good sense to raise him with love and teach by example. We nurtured in him a love for the arts and literature, and made sure that his accomplishments were praised. He has never known boredom, for he grew up drawing, painting, creating with clay, reading books, and writing and filming his own scripts. I observed that, without a television or video game of some sort, most children of his age didn’t know what to do with themselves. My son was the most well-adjusted and self-motivated child I have ever known.

If he, as allegedly did four-year-old Martha Toogood, prematurely opened a package in the store or disappeared twice, I certainly would not have done what her mother did. (And that brings up the issue of why did she lose her daughter twice? Especially in this day of frequent kidnappings, I would not let go of my son’s hand for a minute.) I cannot for the life of me understand how Madelyne can justify someone her size inflicting injury on a four-year-old. I wish she could go back to the moment of her giving birth to little Martha and be shown that video from the future. Would she see her own behaviour as an example of motherly love? What would her justification for those actions have been then? While still on the birthing table, would she have handed her newborn over to that child-beating woman to raise? Well... in a way, she did.

The video shows a mother who, after putting her daughter in the back seat of the car, looks around to see if she is being observed and then begins to repeatedly hit her little girl—and these are many very forceful blows. While it is hard to see what part of the girl’s body she actually made contact with, let us go so far as to suppose that she was only hitting the car seat to scare the child. Those actions alone are horrible even for an adult to witness, and much worse for a four-year-old to experience from inside the car. That would be terrifying psychological abuse. But no, those blows all landed on the little girl. The behavior of that woman is unforgivable.

You know, we have to pass certain tests and have licenses to drive a car, get married, carry a gun—but any two idiots can create and raise a human being. We’ve all heard the stories of parents punishing their children with stun guns, locking them in closets for days on end, and worse. To see this woman rain blows on her defenseless child is proof positive that some people should be banned from ever having children to begin with. Why is it right, in her eyes, to inflict on her child what she would consider a crime if someone else did the same to her—or to her child? I’ve said it elsewhere: there are people who, in their own wonderful and various ways, contribute to society and the overall advancement of humankind, and there are those who are parasites—who merely take up space on this planet. Decide for yourself which fits the inaptly-named Toogoods.

©2002 Stuart Vail

 


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