Friday, January 30, 1998
Witness to beating did her best

The Cincinnati Enquirer

These words keep ringing in Betty Adams' ears.

''Mommy please don't beat me no more. I'll behave. I promise. I promise, please.''

Mommy didn't say a thing. She just kept beating her little girl with a belt.

This happened last week in the middle of a busy Springdale department store. Betty is still shook up over what she saw and heard.

''That belt cracked like a whip. That little girl kept putting her hands up to her face and screaming. I'll never forget that sound.'' Betty tried to help. She yelled at the woman to stop.

The mother turned on her.

''Leave us alone,'' she told Betty. ''Or I'm going to kick your butt.''

The mother was a big woman. Betty thought she was pushing 200 pounds. The little girl wasn't any more than 5 or 6 years old.

Between slaps with the belt, the mother told her child: ''Wait 'til I get you home, you little bitch.''

Then, while Betty and other customers in the store's shoe department watched, the beating stopped. But the abuse didn't.

The mother picked up her child by the hair and threw her into a shopping cart.

''I'm 36 years old,'' Betty said. ''And I've never seen anything like that. I stood there in shock.''

The woman turned and left the store for the parking lot. Another customer followed her from a safe distance and tried to write down her license plate number.

Betty reported the beating to a store employee and Springdale police. The police ran the plate through their computer. The customer wrote down the wrong number.

''We're at a dead end,'' said Patrolman Jerrod Livermore. ''We have no suspect. No name. No license plate number. Nowhere to go.''

The right thing

Betty can't go to sleep without hearing that little girl's screams. She can still see her covering her face. She hears the belt slap against her tender young skin.

She prays that the little girl is all right. And she wonders, could she have done more?

I wonder, too. What would I do in a case like that? What are the best things to do?

Marjorie Davis knows. She's the co-founder of 241-KIDS, the child-abuse hot line. She's also a third generation social worker with 26 years experience in Hamilton County's Human Services Department.

''Call 911. Be very clear about what you have seen and the age of the child. Do not intervene'' were her first words of advice. ''The police can get there quicker than we can at 241-KIDS. They can legally detain the people involved.''

Try to intervene with words and you could just make a bad situation even worse. ''Yelling will humiliate them and make them madder.'' Try to intervene physically and you could get hurt.

''It's easy to discount the kind of strength someone has when they are out of control,'' she said. ''The adrenalin is flowing. You could wind up being kicked, bruised or even worse.''

Please help

A decade ago, Cincinnati Police Detective Linda Day might have recommended ''someone get in the middle of something like this. But not anymore. Society is too violent. This woman could have been carrying a weapon. She might have carried out her threat.''

Betty did the right thing.

''She was,'' Detective Day assured me, ''wise to back off.''

After calling the police, make notes. They will help trigger your memory later if this thing goes to trial. That was the advice of Pamela Sears, chief assistant Hamilton County prosecutor.

When officers arrive on the scene, let them get things under control, she said. ''Then step forward and say, 'I saw this happen. Here's my name. I'll wait until you are ready to speak with me.' ''

That is the best way to get involved, she said. Be a witness and tell the truth.

You might help turn around a little girl's life. So she would never have cause to scream: ''Mommy, please don't beat me no more.''

Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.