A Mom, a Kid, a Park, Cops, Court, Etc.

July 20, 2014

Blogger success depends on picking the right battles. Write “What is a Will” or “Powers of Attorney.” Sure, although very few people read your posts. Food is always safe … so long as you’re not too assertive about whose pizza is best. Even inequality and Hobby Lobby seem to be mostly non-controversial. (We’ll see how my review of the Dinesh D’Souza movie goes; watching it today at 2:10; stay tuned.)

I’ve been cautious about commenting on Debra Harrell. She’s the South Carolina mom who works at McDonalds—yes, Ed Gillespie, former RNC Chair and candidate for the U.S. Senate from Virginia, grown-ups do have minimum wage jobs and try to support families, and they don’t just use the money for drinking beer and playing softball—and dropped her 9-year-old daughter off at a nearby park while she was working. Not good, as someone called the cops, she was arrested, and the state has her daughter.

The piece that prompted me to wander into this thicket was written by Ross Douthat, the New York Times columnist who replaced William Kristol and shares the “Right” side of the op-ed panel with David Brooks. Mr. Douthat’s op-ed column, The Parent Trap, appears on-line and in the Sunday, July 20 issue of the Times. (My “Far Right” friends assure me with certainty that Douthat and Brooks are frauds, left-wing Pinko Commies who are passing. I mean, really, they take money from Sulzbergers and claim they are conservatives!)

Mr. Douthat starts off with an anecdote about no one picking him up for Little League, being the last player, walking home, and about how his lawyer father unloaded on the coach. No cops on the coach, though, and no neighbors calling them either. BTW, Mr. Douthat is only 34, and the incident happened when he was nine; thus, it happened long after “go out and play in the street” days.

After reporting on his own experience, Mr. Douthat recounts several incidents in which recent seemingly non-criminal behavior has been criminalized, while acknowledging that he (and we) may not have all of the facts. He does note the absence of significant risk for children who are out and about—anecdotes and breathless reporting on cable television aside, incidents involving children occur almost never—and closes by acknowledging that if conservatives like him want moms to work, we have to solve for non-school time. In too few places does affordable child care exist. So, if mom says “go the park, take the phone, and call me if there’s a problem,” can we fault her, when she has to work for $8.00 per hour to shelter, feed, and clothe her family?

There is more to this story. There’s fundamental attribution error, the “the tendency to believe people’s actions are driven by some fundamental aspect of their character rather than situational factors.” For more on this psychological occurrence, and why it may be present here, read The Psychological Shortcoming That Can Help Explain Why We’re Arresting Innocent Moms, written by Jesse Singal and appearing in New York magazine.

Now, after reading about fundamental attribution error, part of me wants to focus on the fact that Ms. Harrell lives in South Carolina and is African-American. And maybe there’s something there. On the other hand, Mr. Douthat mentions incidents in Ohio, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C., so these situations can occur anywhere. (Read Forget Red State, Blue State: Is Your State “Tight” or “Loose”? by Chris Mooney in Mother Jones, reporting on a paper presented by Jesse Harrington and Michele Gelfand to the National Academy of Sciences, explaining the “psychological” differences between the states.)

Ms. J and I raised a child. We were blessed with an easy child, healthy incomes, a stable household, and support from friends and family. We worked hard, but we were also lucky!

Our situation is not the norm. It’s not, truly. (Ward and June Cleaver were not real people. Honest!) Good people find themselves unemployed. Divorced. Unhealthy. Friends and family crap out sometimes. Stuff, some of it bad, happens!

No one should suggest that parental neglect be ignored. But sending Ms. Harrell to jail, and taking her daughter away from her? What will South Carolina accomplish? One more criminal case. A broken home. Trauma for all.

P.S. From Business Insider here’s Attorney: McDonald’s Mom Who Let Her Child Play in Park Did Not Put Her In Harm’s Way by Corey Adwar. If the attorney has the facts close to correct, there’s an awful lot that is really wrong about what happened, and I’m not talking about Ms. Harrell’s decision to leave her daughter at the park.

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