Saturday, October 31, 2020

Police caught on tape reveal Philadelphia’s culture of child removal

When Philadelphia cops literally took the child and ran, they knew where they could get back-up if they wanted it.


Police smashed the windows of a mother's SUV, then dragged her and her children out.
What came next was worse. (Video by Aapril Rice)

By now you’ve probably at least heard about the story; perhaps you’ve seen the video.

 In the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police version, a two-year old was rescued from rioting by one of their officers. They posted pictures with this caption: 

 “This child was lost during the violent riots in Philadelphia, wandering around barefoot in an area that was experiencing complete lawlessness. The only thing this Philadelphia police officer cared about in that moment was protecting this child.”

 But that’s not what happened. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

 Philadelphia police pulled a woman from an SUV during unrest in West Philadelphia Tuesday morning, beat and bloodied her, separated her from her toddler for hours, and kept her in handcuffs in the hospital, her attorneys said Friday.

 The toddler also was injured, they said. 

 The thing is, the lawyers’ version is the one that’s backed up with video.  


But here’s the part of the story I find striking.  According to the mother’s lawyers

  police at the scene refused to tell her where her child would be taken, saying only “he’s gonna go to a better place, we’re gonna report it to DHS," presumably referring to the Department of Human Services, the city’s child-welfare agency.

 Fortunately, that apparently didn’t happen.  The lawyers say that after hours apart, during which the toddler was kept in the back of a police cruiser in his car seat, (which reportedly still had glass from when the police broke the windows of the SUV), and a trip to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to treat his injuries, mother and child were reunited.

 But what does it say about the culture of Philadelphia law enforcement and Philadelphia child welfare that the first instinct upon encountering a Black mother and her young child trying to slowly and carefully drive away from trouble is to, literally, take the child and run, apparently secure in the knowledge that Philadelphia DHS would back them up? How many other times have police threatened Black families with needless separation of their children because they knew the child welfare agency is their eager partner?  After all, Philadelphia tears apart families at one of the highest rates among America’s big cities.

 In fact, the child was at risk of needless removal at least twice. The mother is lucky that Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia didn’t simply assume she must have caused the toddler’s injury and call DHS – given their well-known hair trigger for such reports, and the fact that Philadelphia DHS encourages just that.  (I’m assuming they didn’t actually call DHS. So far there are no reports of a caseworker showing up at the family home.)

 Though it’s more likely to happen in Philadelphia than in many other big cities, this could have happened anywhere. All over America you can do almost anything you want to a Black family as long as you claim that “The only thing [you] cared about in that moment was protecting this child.”