This is a requiem for Willy Brown.
As these words are written, he lies brain dead and on life support at Miami Children’s Hospital. By the time you read this, there’s a good chance he will have been disconnected and declared dead. He is, or he was, 2 years old. His father, 23-year-old Lee Willie DeJesus of Homestead, Fla., is in jail, having been denied bond. Prosecutors expect to charge him with first-degree murder.
According to a confession police say DeJesus supplied, here is what happened: Monday night while the child’s mother was at work and he was supposed to be babysitting, DeJesus strapped on a pair of boxing gloves and took aim at his son. He hit him. And hit him. And hit him. And hit him. And hit him.
And hit him. Up to 15 times over 15 minutes about the head, face and torso, including one punch that knocked the little boy off the bed, causing him to strike his head on the floor. DeJesus told police he was trying to teach his son to box.
This is a requiem for intelligence.
You know, common sense, basic brain function. When a man thinks a 2-year-old is ready to learn the manly arts of self-defense and proceeds to teach them by beating the stuffing out of him, is that not a sign that the last flickering candle of cognition has been well and truly snuffed? Is it not a signal that plodding, atavistic stupidity has finally seized the day, planted its flag, ascended the throne.
So yes, this is a requiem for common sense. It is also a requiem for idealized memory.
Meaning the communal recollection of fatherhood as the province of strong and tender men who laid down the law and told their stories of walking to school through mountains of snow, who gave you their shoulders as a perch, their truths as a guide, who were never too busy to sip invisible tea from tiny doll cups or have a catch in the backyard as twilight gathered into evening.
It is an ideal that evaporates like dew in the face of the increasingly common reality of father as callow boy-man who has no idea how to fulfill the role to which circumstance has called him, often because he had no father of his own to teach him.
So this is a requiem for idealized memory. But it is also a requiem for Lee Willie DeJesus.
Whatever he was, whatever he could have been, died when he killed his son. But then, he was probably dead to his own possibilities long before that. There are many things a boy needs his father to teach him: how to be honest and industrious; how to hit the water and not the porcelain; how to shave your beard or tie a tie; how to treat a lady. But like too many men, DeJesus apparently thought the primary lesson he had to teach his son was violence. This, he must have thought, would make his boy a man.
And this is a requiem for tomorrow’s victims.
Meaning the little boys and girls who grow up hit more often than they are hugged, left by blind mothers in the care of broken men who have no sense of self, no definition of role, no clue.
Police say that after his son became unresponsive, DeJesus waited as much as an hour before calling 911. Initially, he blamed the beating on a babysitter before finally confessing what he had done.
DeJesus’ mother, Maria DeJesus, told CBS 4 (a local TV news station) she did not think her son was capable of the crime of which he stands accused. “He might be capable of beating her the boy’s mother, but they always go at it, but then she goes right back to him. And if he did, he knows I love him. He knows what time it is. He knows he’s got to suffer with the consequences.”
This is a requiem for a handsome little boy named Willy Brown. And also an epitaph:
He deserved better.
— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. firstname.lastname@example.org