Monday, December 10, 2018

Our outrage about what happened to Jazmine Headley’s baby should extend to the cases that are not caught on tape.

UPDATE, DEC. 16: The New York Times has a very good story delving into the details of what happened that day, and explaining where things stand now.  But I found this paragraph particularly striking:

Body-cameras worn by the officers recorded the guard telling Ms. Headley that if she did not leave she would be taken to central booking and the city’s child-welfare agency would take her son away, according to a person briefed on the matter.

Why is it that other government agencies that want to bully poor people always seem to know they can count on “child protective services” to do their dirty work for them?

There have been scores of stories such as this one about a case in which security guards for New York City’s public assistance agency and some New York City police officers were caught on video, endangering the one-year-old son of Jazmine Headley by prying him from her arms.

Here’s the tape, recorded by a bystander:

What crime had the mother committed? After waiting hours in an overcrowded office in Brooklyn that didn’t have enough chairs, she sat on the floor with her baby.

The mother has been jailed.  In an Orwellian twist, the charges against her include "acting in a manner injurious to a child.”  But, as Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, himself a former New York City police officer, said: “The mother didn’t endanger the welfare of a child. The actions of the [police] department endangered the welfare of the child."

New York City’s child welfare agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, was not involved in the initial incident – but, of course, they’ve been called in now to investigate. (Investigate the mother, that is, not the NYPD.) One would hope that ACS will have the decency to limit its involvement to offering the family voluntary help or, if it can’t muster that, at least stay the hell out of their lives and not make everything worse.

ACS does it, too

But ACS’ own track record is not reassuring.  ACS has a long, ugly history of abusing its own power to march into homes and remove children on the spot without so much as asking a judge first.  As is discussed in this previous post, just weeks ago ACS admitted that in hundreds of such cases a few days later, as soon as a judge holds a hearing, the judge orders the child sent right back home – much the worse for the experience.  That speaks volumes about how flimsy the grounds for the so-called "emergency" removal were in the first place.

But what are those removals like?  Presumably they vary enormously.  But, as it happens, a recent story on NPR’s LatinoUSA includes a description of an unnecessary non-emergemcy “emergency” removal in New York City. It bears a disturbing resemblance to what happened to Jazmine Headley’s son.  Listen at 18:30 in:

So, what is the difference between the case of Jazmine Headley’s son, which has so much of America outraged, and what child protective services agencies such as ACS do when they abuse their power to remove children in so-called emergencies? Sometimes, just the presence of a bystander with a cellphone camera.