[Content Note: Criminalization of need; rape culture; racism; classism.]

So, I'm reading this article about Debra Harrell, a mom in North Augusta, South Carolina, who was arrested and charged with unlawful conduct toward a child, because she allowed her nine-year-old daughter to go play at a park while she was working at McDonald's.
Here are the facts: Debra Harrell works at McDonald's in North Augusta, South Carolina. For most of the summer, her daughter had stayed there with her, playing on a laptop that Harrell had scrounged up the money to purchase. (McDonald's has free WiFi.) Sadly, the Harrell home was robbed and the laptop stolen, so the girl asked her mother if she could be dropped off at the park to play instead.

Harrell said yes. She gave her daughter a cell phone. The girl went to the park—a place so popular that at any given time there are about 40 kids frolicking—two days in a row. There were swings, a "splash pad," and shade. On her third day at the park, an adult asked the girl where her mother was. At work, the daughter replied.

The shocked adult called the cops. Authorities declared the girl "abandoned" and proceeded to arrest the mother.
The author of the piece, Lenore Skenazy, who advocates for "free-range kids," makes excellent points about how we are criminalizing parenting choices regarding supervision based on faulty narratives about rape culture, and about how we're criminalizing need.

There's one little detail left out of Skenazy's piece, though: Debra Harrell is black. That seems relevant.

It seems relevant because Shanesha Taylor is black. It seems relevant because Moina Lucious is black. It seems relevant because this is partially a class issue, and black women are disproportionately likely to live in poverty. It seems relevant because we know that black mothers' choices made out of need are criminalized in a way that white mothers' choices are not.

This isn't just about our increasing insistence on holding parents (especially mothers) accountable for failing to protect their children if they aren't hovering over them 24 hours a day. (Or if they are.) It's also about classism and racism and the criminalization of black lives and choices.

So, yes, it's one thing to observe that, 31 years ago, I was allowed to spend long days, sans mobile phone, at parks anywhere within range of my bicycle, with other kids, often with none of our parents around at all. And that was okay. And, while recognizing many parents don't feel they can make that choice because of the culture of judgment and blame around parenting, it should be okay today.

But it's not much of an observation without including that I was a white kid with white parents in a mostly white and mostly working-middle class exurban town, and I'm not exactly sure, if I'd been a nine-year-old black girl instead of a nine-year-old white girl, that no one would have called the cops "for me" even back then.

We can't just advocate for less judgment of parents, because that alone probably won't protect women like Debra Harrel. We have to also advocate against the reflexive response, to parenting choices we don't like, of criminalization and forcible separation of poor and/or black mothers and their children.

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