We all got a little bruised up for our daring escapades as children; adults are there to prevent worse when we don't know better. (Source: sugarsnaptastic/Flickr)

BETWEEN THE LINES: In the aftermath of the death of the 12-year-old Brownsville boy who was crushed to death last Sunday when he got stuck in an ascending automatic parking lot gate, everyone’s been quick to point the finger in blame.

Some residents of the project where the incident occurred hold the management responsible due to the lack of recreational facilities on the property. Some criticized the mentality left over from the pop cultural craze known as Jackass, where daring — reckless seems more appropriate — people performed stupid and dangerous stunts just to get fleeting attention on Facebook or YouTube.

For those who may not know, Jackass was a popular MTV reality show for three seasons. It ended a decade ago, yet spawned three movies, a web site and a bunch of controversy, including condemnation by Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman after a teenager from his state got severely burned. MTV responded by programming the series after 10 p.m., when its youngest viewers were supposed to be fast asleep.

You can imagine how effective that was, knowing from personal experience that when youngsters, especially teenagers, are prohibited from participating in an activity, they routinely attempt to elude the ban.

This tragedy triggered a memory of a personal Jackass moment from my youth, which, thankfully, did not end in tragedy.

At 12, I was not the most daring among my pack of friends. I typically sat on the sidelines and watched them take chances, despite their attempts to get me to join in. However, one winter, I summoned the nerve to take part in a potentially dangerous activity.
On well-below freezing days, when the streets were covered with a sheet of ice, outdoor pursuits are limited, but when you’re filled with youthful energy, it’s still the preferred alternative to being inside.

Decades before Jackass, one stunt my peers and I witnessed many times, before attempting it, was hitching a ride by grabbing the rear bumper of an automobile and holding on as it moved slowly down an icy stretch of road. After hanging on for about a block, the “jackass” let go and the momentum took you to the nearest curb as the car went on its way.

One day, a group of friends were enacting this challenging feat along Avenue X, between Haring Street and Nostrand Avenue. After watching them do it without difficulty for about a half hour, I mustered the courage (or stupidity, I soon realized) to try it.

As a car made a left turn from Haring onto X, I saw my opportunity. I squatted down so the driver would not see me in the rearview mirror and grabbed the rear bumper, which in those days was ideal to hold on to that activity, but would not be as easy on today’s vehicles. My heart beat rapidly as I held on, but my fear abated when I found myself easily sliding. My confidence swelled as friends cheered, knowing this was my first time.

About halfway to Nostrand Avenue, I heard a car horn honking right behind me. I assumed it was a driver warning me about the dangerous activity. But, when I turned my head and saw the car was a Checker taxicab, my anxiety swiftly returned as I realized my father was behind the wheel.

I instantly let go of the bumper and skidded towards the curb. By the time I stopped, my father had pulled over, exited his cab and was walking towards me. By then, my friends, recognizing my father’s taxi, had scattered or were crouching behind parked cars.

My father, who rarely showed anger, calmly asked me if I was okay. Too scared to talk, I nodded. It was hard to tell whether he was mad or disappointed or both. Pointing to the general vicinity of our building, a block north, at Avenue W and Nostrand Avenue, he said, “Go home and stay in your room. Don’t tell your mother about this. I will.”

He stood there as I walked away. After a few steps, I turned and saw him glaring at me. I looked back once more before I entered the building, but he was gone.

Several hours later he came through our sixth-floor apartment door and I began to feel uneasy, afraid of the imminent confrontation.
He opened then closed the bedroom door and said, “Well, at least you did one smart thing today. Listening to me and staying in your room.”

I blankly looked at him and suddenly blurted, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t…”

“Sorry?” he interrupted. “You know, you could’ve been killed if you slipped off that bumper and another car hit you. Or gotten hurt if you skidded into a parked car. What were you thinking?”

It quickly struck me that my wellbeing was the primary reason he was so upset.

Like a parent does every now and then to teach a comparable lesson, he told me that when he was about my age he did something just as reckless, got injured and ended up with a large permanent scar on his lower back when he was hit by the grille of a trolley car.

My father never punished me, but after that day I only watched from the safety of the sidewalk whenever friends performed the car-hitching stunt.

In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy or accident, kneejerk reactions are not necessarily the best response. My father could have kicked my ass that day, but, instead, he made me realize how stupid I acted, which proved to be the correct message.

I read some insensitive comments on websites that blamed Yakim McDaniels, the 12-year-old, who reportedly was engaging in a game of chicken regularly played by local kids. Apparently, community youths challenged each other to see who could hold onto the rising gate the longest before jumping. A screaming McDaniels reportedly was unable to release himself before being crushed.

For chrissakes, a child is dead in a tragic accident. Now is not the time for callousness.

On Monday, City Councilman Charles Barron, whose district includes the location, joined the chorus of angry tenants and also blamed the tragedy on the scarcity of recreational space and equipment for the community’s youth to play.

The New York Post reported that “for months” Barron warned the property’s co-owners, including ex-New York Mets first baseman Mo Vaughn, about the need to add more facilities for the youngsters. Vaughn agreed that the company would pay for the child’s funeral.

However, did the so-called responsible adults in the community, who told reporters they regularly saw the youths “playing chicken,” ever admonish the kids when they saw them engaging in the activity?

It seems that after a needless tragedy, such as this one, everyone is quick to blame someone else before placing the burden of responsibility on their own shoulders.

The daring of reckless youths is understandable, but the failure of adults, who admitted they stood by and watched the youths take part in a dangerous activity but did not stop it, is unforgivable.

From time to time, in tragedies like this, there’s usually plenty of blame to go around.

Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.

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  • AIG_Quant

    Typical liberal project dweller response.. put the blame on anyone but the victim. I guess we should ban subways as well because when retarded kids surf on the roofs of the subways they get killed. And just look at all these parasite Al Sharpton types that got involved in this. Hey Mother of 7, close your damn legs and pay more attention to your children next time.

    This is Darwins evolutionary theory at its finest.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lauraoshun Laura Aiello

    It’s sad that this happened, but his parents or parent should have been more involved in his safety. 

  • http://facebook.com/prettyinpurplebk Pretty_in_Purple

    I feel that at a certain age you know what’s dangerous and
    what’s not. At 12 years old, you know what you should and shouldn’t do. You
    made that clear by telling us your story, Ned. You choose to still do this dangerous
    activity. If something had happened to you would everyone start blaming the car
    you were holding on to? I feel for this 12 year old boy who died. It’s a tragedy.
    However, people need to start taking responsibility for their actions. Every
    time someone terrible happens you can’t always blame someone else for the
    choices one person makes. I am not surprised that there was no sensor to stop
    the gate from rising. No one anticipates someone attempting to hold on to it
    while it’s going up. Like I said, it’s very sad that this little boy died, no
    one deserves that, but I don’t think blaming the management company, or anyone
    for that matter is the answer.

    • http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/ Ned Berke

      This post originally went up without all the proper formatting (and byline). It was not my story, it was Neil’s, and it is part of his “Between the Lines” column.

      That said, I did PLENTY of stupid, dangerous stuff when I was 12. 

      • http://facebook.com/prettyinpurplebk Pretty_in_Purple

        Well, whoevers story it was it helped me make me point.

      • http://www.brucebrodinsky.com Bruce B

        Man, I was crazy myself. I experimented with some seriously wild chess openings in tournaments…

      • nauticalstar

         We all did.

  • 90SBROOKLYN

    SKICHIN LOL,I used to do it on buses on Flatbush ave,I made it from Kings Paza to Lenny and Johns

  • frankiev

    What it comes down to is that we can’t make the world child-proof!

  • JR

    it takes a tragedy to fix the problem, hopefully the problem(s) are fixed

  • Barkingspider07

    My condolences to the family of this child.  At 12 years old, these kids are not mature enough to be left alone – parents should be out on the streets paying attention to them.  12 year olds (and even older kids) do stupid things.  This is an example of why parents cannot be negligent or too careful about watching their kids, whether the kids like it or not.  If the mama were outside watching, this would not have happened.

  • http://www.brucebrodinsky.com Bruce B

    Maybe within your article is the reason all this goes on: “my father never punished me”. My gosh if a father shouldn’t punish a kid for a stunt like that, the question begs: is there EVER a punishment? From what I see, the answer is no. And that explains kids misbehaving in a large way in school, towards adults, towards each other.

       You turned out well, Neil, but for every one of you, I guarantee there’s 10 who didn’t because of “no punishment”. Maybe the same kid grew up and drove 90mph down Ocean Parkway, killed someone, and again will “not be punished”.