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Friday, August 24, 2012

The Delaware Daycare Fight Club: Throwing Kids to the Wolves

     In recent days, a father, with his 20-month-old son in the car, led the police on a high-speed chase through the streets of Detroit after he refused to stop for a traffic offense. He ran a stop sign, lost control of the vehicle, crashed, then continued his flight from custody on foot carrying the uninjured child in his arms. Just before the police caught up to him, the father handed his son off to a woman on the street he didn't know. (Whether or not the police should have been chasing a man with a child in the car is another question.)

     Anyone who follows the news will come across, almost every day, a story featuring an irresponsible, clearly unfit parent. However, the fact there are probably thousands upon thousands of kids in this country being raised by drug addicts, child abusers, nut cases, and immature idiots, doesn't mitigate the problem that so many children are being raised in daycare centers by people who shouldn't be anywhere near a child.  

     Millions of children in the United States are being partially raised (or warehoused) in 400,000 or so licensed and regulated child care facilities. Forty-one percent of preschool children whose mothers are employed, find themselves in daycare 35 or more hours a week. In America, daycare has become a big business.

     Suzanne Venker, in an online National Review article entitled, "Will America Ever be Ready for the Truth About Daycare," points out that politicians and media journalists avoid talking about the harm daycare is doing to the nation's children. Politicians don't want to offend female voters, and women in the media rely on daycare services themselves, and are therefore not prone to publicly discuss the issue. Venker and others, consider daycare one of the greatest tragedies of modern America. They see the phenomena as a growing epidemic of parental abandonment.

     In her National Review piece, Venker discusses a recent e-book by May Saubiek called Doing Time: What it Really Means to Grow Up in Daycare. According to the author, daycare children receive very little individualized attention, and when they do, because of the high daycare employee turnover rates, it's often from a stranger. Because daycare is a business that relies on customers who believe their children are happy, and being cared for by people who care, parents aren't told how miserable their children really are. On the contrary, parents receive rose-colored reports of how well their kids are adapting and progressing. Parents are often told that the daycare experience helps "socialize" their children. According to Saubiek, daycare life fosters aggressive behavior by forcing kids into survival mode. If a child wants a toy, he or she learns to fight for it.

     Some child facilities are obviously better than others, and conditions might not be so bleak as Saubiek describes in her book. But it seems to me that, to some degree, a good number of working mothers' children are paying the price for the realities of modern society. Daycare workers are not highly paid, thoroughly investigated, or well trained. And they are being drawn from a society awash in alcoholism, mental illness, drug addiction, pedophilia, and ignorance. Who are these rent-a-parents, and what are they doing to America's preschool population?

 The Delaware Daycare Fight Club

     On August 18, 2012, police officers in Dover, Delaware watched a video that showed two 3-year-old boys engaged in a fight organized and supervised by three workers at The Hands of Our Future Daycare Center. One of the Dover daycare workers recorded the combat on her cellphone. When one of the toddlers cried, "He's pinching me!" one of these fight organizers said, "No pinching, only punching."

     In speaking to a reporter, Dover police captain Tim Stump said, "It's difficult to watch. One of the kids involved ran over to one of the adults for protection, but she turned him around back into the fight. They were just wailing on each other, I mean slapping, pinching, throwing each other onto tables." (The fight viewed by the police had occurred back in March 2012.)

     On August 21, the police arrested 19-year-old Tianna Harris, Lisa Parker, 47, and 21-year-old Estefania Myers. Charged with assault, endangering the welfare of a child, reckless endangering, and conspiracy, these daycare workers were placed into the county jail on $10,000 bond each. All three suspects posted bail and were released from custody shortly after their arrests. They are currently awaiting their preliminary hearings.

     One would think that this case, and the subject of daycare services in America, would be a topic of discussion in the national media. The fact it isn't proves Suzanne Venker's point. If politicians raise questions about the quality of daycare in the country, they will be accused by their opponents of waging a war on working women. And since more than half of the personalities featured on television news shows are women, the subject is off-limits. At least for now.

     Someone should be asking how one daycare center had three abusers working at the facility at the same time. Who are these people? Was this facility licensed? Who in Delaware is in charge of daycare oversight? And finally, is there anyway to protect daycare children from institutional abuse? 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Are Pageant Moms Abusing Their Daughters on "Toddlers & Tiara" and "Honey Boo Boo?"

     About a year after a 5-year-old beauty pageant contestant on TLC's popular series "Toddlers & Tiaras" performed a Dolly Parton dance parody in padded boobs and a fake butt, her father, pursuant to a divorce action, petitioned a California judge for custody of the child. Citing a pair of psychologists who believe the child's pageant mom injuriously sexualized their daughter, the father is accusing the woman he is divorcing of child abuse.

     TLC's new reality pageant series called "Honey Boo Boo," a "Toddlers & Tiaras" spin-off featuring a 6-year-old "beauty" queen from McIntrye, Georgia, has created a child exploitation controversy of its own. Honey Boo Boo Child, the hyperactive star of the show, eats roadkill, guzzles a cocktail of Mountain Dew and Red Bull, and proudly squeezes her energy drink-gut into a mound of flab for the amusement (and disgust) of her TV audience. (If you think reality TV has hit rock bottom, watch this show.)

     As the pudgy "toddler" mugs for the camera, cuts on-air cheese, and generally acts the redneck fool, her hefty, low-class mother, sporting more chins than a Chinese phone book (sorry), looks on with clod-hopper pride. "Honey Boo Boo" is a pathetic portrayal of losers who think they are living the American dream. While millions of TV viewers obviously adore the show, its most severe critics are accusing this girl's pageant mom of child abuse. Others simply consider the spectacle a crime against taste.

     The art and science of parenting has sunk so low in this country, psychologists and psychiatrists have to tell people how to raise their children. It's gotten that bad. Since the dawn of the drug culture in the late 1960's, more and more children are being raised by prescription pill and alcohol abusers, emotional basket-cases, functional illiterates, and permanently immature idiots. How many times have you heard some narcissistic knucklehead say, "I'm doing this reality show for my children," or "My kids want me to be happy." What a load of crap. Children don't give a damn about your happiness. They are concerned about their wellbeing. Parents who refuse to grow up are producing neurotic, nasty kids who in turn populate the country with another generation of jerks. It's no wonder we are becoming a nation of nut cases, sociopaths, and drug addled losers.

     For the pageant moms on "Toddlers & Tiaras," these beauty contests are all about them. These mothers lose parental control of their daughters because the kids hold all of the cards. These moms need these pint-sized performers more than the pageant contestants need them. It's not surprising that these 5 to 9-year-old trash-talking narcissist are out of control mini-sociopaths desperately in search of parental control and guidance. To hell with the psychologists and psychiatrists, maybe we should bring in the TV dog whisperer to set these mothers straight.

     If you watch "Toddlers & Tiaras," you have to ask yourself why would a mother spend so much time, money, and emotional energy in pursuit of a five-foot tall, 4-ounce trophy representing one of those ridiculous pageant titles such as "ultra, grand, supreme." And what does it mean to win one of these big trophies? It means the judges liked the winner's fake hair, front-teeth, tan, eyelashes, and nails. The $2,000 dress also helped. Pageant losers and their distraught mothers, coaches, hairdressers, and make-up artists, slink out of the pageant site hotel with dazed kids carrying their puny trophies and demeaning titles like third runner-up queen. Pageant losers spend all of that money and effort to learn that their kids are untalented and not that beautiful. There has got to be something profoundly wrong with these people.

     I'm not a sociologist, criminologist or any other kind of ologist, but so-called glitz beauty pageants for little girls, and the popularity of this genre of reality TV, says something awful about our popular culture. These televised spectacles of humiliation, stupidity, and false hope reflects bad parenting, the increasing vulgarity of our society, and the nation's obsession with cheap, ill gotten fame.

     In an earlier era, these contests would have been widely viewed as a form of child abuse. Pageant moms would have been accused of turning their little girls into circus freaks. Today, in the context of bad parenting and criminality, this form of child exploitation by parents and pageant operators, while perhaps mildly deviant, does not rise to the legal or criminal definition of child abuse.

     If pandering politicians start passing laws banning child beauty pageants, what's next? Little league baseball? Criminalizing stupid behavior by neurotic and ignorant parents will not improve child raising in this country. If we start putting lousy parents behind bars, half of America's youngsters will be raised by the government. (A good percentage of them are currently being raised by day-care workers.) Since the government can't even properly educate our kids, this is not a good idea. Kiddie pageants will be around until they are stigmatized or shamed out of business. Unfortunately, we live in a culture in which the concept of shame is vanishing before our eyes.       


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Christopher Middleton's Street Rage, and Sudden Death

     On Saturday night, August 11, 2012, 26-year-old Christopher Middleton and his family--his pregnant fiancee Tanya, their 6-year-old son, and their 4-year-old daughter Taniyah--were gathered at a restaurant in Maywood, Illinois, a town of 27,000 ten miles west of downtown Chicago. At nine that evening, an eight year veteran of the Chicago Police Department was riding his motorcycle through Maywood on his way home after work. As the officer approached the restaurant, 4-year-old Taniyah darted out into the street. To avoid running over her, the 43-year-old officer laid the bike on the ground. It skidded, flipped, then brushed the girl and bumped her 18-year-cousin who had run into the street to fetch her. The 4-year-old, while receiving contusions and abrasions, was not seriously hurt. The officer fractured his ankle, dislocated his shoulder, and possibly broke a leg. The girl's cousin, John Passley, was not injured.

     The injured off-duty police officer was attending the girl when Christopher Middleton, her father, rushed out of the restaurant shouting and swearing. "You could have killed my daughter," he screamed.

     "Take it easy, I'm the police," the officer replied in an effort to calm Middleton down.

     "I don't care who the f---- you are!" shouted the father as he punched the officer in the face, knocking him to the street. Middleton continued to punch the officer who couldn't get up to protect himself. The girl's 18-year-old cousin, instead of pulling the out of control father off the fallen officer, decided to participate in the beating by kicking him. Before losing consciousness, the officer pulled his sidearm and shot Middleton. A hour later, at Loyola University Medical Center, a doctor pronounced Middleton dead.

     The Maywood police took John Passley into custody for questioning while Taniyah Middleton was kept in the hospital overnight for observation. Doctors treated the injuries the beaten police officer had received when he avoided running over the girl.

     The 4-year-old's mother, Tanya, told a reporter with the Chicago Tribune that Christopher Middleton "was a father trying to protect his daughter. He was never a violent person," she said. Who was this enraged father protecting his daughter from? The injured officer who was trying to help her? And if Christopher Middleton was not a violent person, what was he when he attacked an injured cop who had risked his own life to save the man's daughter? (In 2005, Middleton had been convicted of felony theft, and a year later, was charged in Elgin, Illinois with resisting arrest. I would argue that nonviolent men do not resist arrest.)

     On August 16, a Cook County prosecutor charged John Passley, a resident of Bellwood, Illinois, with aggravated assault. Investigation of this police involved shooting is being conducted by the Independent Police Review Authority.

     No doubt the family will be contacted by some ambulance chasing lawyer and a lawsuit will be filed against the officer, the Chicago Police Department, the city of Chicago, and who knows, the manufacturer of the motorcycle. But before all the legal BS hits the fan, someone should find out what the little girl was doing out in the street, and who was supposed to be watching her.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Darrius Kennedy: New York City Cops Kill the "Times Square Ninja"

     In October 2008, New York City police officers in the Times Square Section of midtown Manhattan, arrested 47-year-old Darrius H. Kennedy for knocking over garbage cans. Instead of hauling the homeless man to jail, they took him to the Bellevue Hospital Center for psychiatric evaluation. A month later, police encountered Kennedy near the Lincoln Center. As he was being taken into custody for stopping traffic on Broadway, and harassing motorists for handouts, Kennedy waved a screwdriver at the arresting officers. Convicted of resisting arrest, a judge sentenced Kennedy to 40 days in jail.

     Over the next four years, Darrius Kennedy didn't have any more run-ins with the New York City Police that resulted in his arrest. By 2012, some of the street merchants in the Times Square area knew Kennedy as a guy who dressed up like a ninja and did back flips to earn tips from tourists. They referred to him as the "Times Square Ninja." (In the 1970s and 80s, many tourists, because Times Square had become so seedy, stayed out of the neighborhood. Since the mid 1990's the place has been as tourist friendly and safe as a Disneyland. Manhattan itself, including Central Park, is one of the safest urban areas in the country.)

       At three in the afternoon on Saturday, August 11, 2012, two police officers in Times Square approached a black man with long hair on the suspicion he was smoking marijuana. When the officers tried to take Darius Kennedy into custody, he backed-off, cursed at them, and pulled a kitchen knife with a six-inch blade. Police officers, with their guns drawn, followed Kennedy as he darted between cars, and weaved in and out of clusters of terrified tourists. As he avoided arrest, Kennedy waved his knife to keep people at bay. The officers trailed Kennedy south from West 44th Street and Seventh Avenue down to 37th Street. Along the way, in an effort to disarm and arrest him, officers pepper sprayed him six times. As is often the case with subjects who are either on drugs or mentally deranged, Kennedy was not affected by the officer's nonlethal force. Alarmed tourists and other bystanders scattered as the moving standoff proceeded south on Seventh Avenue.

     On 37th Street, police officers maneuvered Kennedy into an entrance of an office building. A patrol car pulled up on the sidewalk to hem him in. When two police officers jumped out of the cruiser and ordered Kennedy to drop his weapon, he came toward them wielding the knife. When the armed subject got within three feet of the officers, one of them fired nine shots, and his partner three. Kennedy collapsed to the pavement. Shot several times in the torso, he was pronounced dead a short time later at the Bellevue Hospital Center. The shooting was witnessed by a crowd of people who had followed the action down Seventh Avenue to the spot where Kennedy was shot. Many of the spectators had video-taped the deadly encounter on their cellphones.

     The two officers involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of the incident. Neither officer had previously discharged his weapon in the line of duty.

     While there are individuals and groups with anti-law enforcement agendas who criticize the police every time they kill someone, police involved shootings have to be evaluated on a case by case basis. Given the real possibility that Darrius Kennedy could have injured or killed a civilian, taken a hostage, or knifed a police officer, the cops were not, in my opinion, out of line in using deadly force on this out of control man.

     In 2010, officers with the New York City Police Department shot 24 people, killing 8. The following year, they only shot 16, killing 6. By comparison, the police in Chicago shot 46 people in 2011, killing 10. In Los Angeles that year, officers shot 22, killing 14. New York City police officers receive the best deadly force training in the country, and the department's shooting statistics reflect this schooling.  

Note: In 2011, according to date I collected, police officers in the United States shot 1,146 people, killing 607. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Problems at the St. Paul Crime Lab

     The crime lab in St. Paul, Minnesota is operated by the police department. Between 2007 and 2011, the laboratory has handled more than 16,000 cases involving 200,000 pieces of physical evidence. In the spring of 2011, a pair of Dakota County public defenders, Lauri Traub and Christine Funk, began raising questions regarding the reliability of results coming out of the lab's drug testing unit. Members of the Dakota County Drug Task Force had also expressed concerns over the quality of the lab's drug analysis.

     The lab in St. Paul is one of 18 in the state of Minnesota that has not been accredited by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors, a process of authentication that can take up to two years. After public defenders Traub and Funk visited the lab in March 2012, they asked a Dakota County judge to hold a special hearing to determine if the findings of the drug testing operation can be trusted.

     On July 17, at the special crime lab hearing, attorney Traub questioned Sergeant Jay Siegel, the director of the lab. Siegel, a former patrol officer who once worked as a latent fingerprint examiner, testified that he had no formal education in science. Attorney Traub presented the lab director with a list of 51 scientific protocols that must be adhered to before a crime lab meets the minimum standards of proficiency and credibility. Sergeant Siegel was forced to admit that the St. Paul Lab had been ignoring all but two of the 51 protocols. He testified that three of the criminalists who tested narcotics seized by the police had little formal training in drug analysis. The lab director also acknowledged that the facility had not been keeping proper records, and that personnel regularly misused the drug testing equipment. In Siegel's opinion, results coming out of this unit could not be trusted.

     At the conclusion of the forensic science court hearing, Police Chief Thomas Smith suspended the lab's drug testing operation, and appointed a police commander to take over the administration of the facility. The chief reassigned Sergeant Siegel to another police job. Chief Thomas also ordered an internal review of the beleaguered operation.

     This crime laboratory will never be credible as long as it's run by the police department, and remains unaccredited. Because almost all criminal justice resources are earmarked for uniformed policing, and crime labs are extremely expensive to operate, the future of the St. Paul facility looks bleak.