If Halle Smith Had Been White, Would She Be Alive Today?
I had a client recently—call him Sam—who got in the law’s bad graces for some conduct involving alcohol and the brandishing of a firearm in his garage while his young daughter slept upstairs. The daughter—well-fed, well-loved, well-adjusted and well-cared-for—was never in any danger and never even knew what had happened.
Only a total idiot would think it was a good idea to take that child out of that home, but CPS was all over Sam’s case, questioning his daughter at school, filing suit against him, threatening to take her away from him and his wife. By spending a bunch of money on lawyers, Sam and his wife were able to fend off CPS and keep their very lucky child in their home.
Sam commented to me at the time that he thought the CPS bureaucrats were racists; if he had been the same race as them, he said, he would not have had to fight so hard to keep his child. I shrugged and ascribed his view to bitterness at a terrible experience with a stupid bureaucracy; surely, I thought, CPS overreacts to everyone regardless of race.
Then I saw this story in the Houston Chronicle:
For 17 years, Texas Child Protective Services workers suspected that Almita Nicole Lockhart, a drug addict now accused of starving her daughter to death, was unable to care for her children. They investigated in 1993 and 1994. In 1996 and 1999. And five other times between 2000 and 2009, the year her 8-year-old daughter, Halle Shamille Smith, died of starvation, records show.
That an eight-year-old child should starve to death in Houston in 2009 is horrible, tragic, sick. There’s plenty of blame to go around: it takes a village to starve a child. Almita Lockhart was not competent to take care of her children; this is obvious, and should have been obvious to CPS when she tested positive for drugs on the days of two children’s births. Almita needed help, or an intervention, that CPS was not willing to give her.
The effort used to snatch Sam’s child could have been put to better use. If Almita’s case had been attacked with the same vigor as Sam’s, children would have been removed from the home. There’s no way Almita—drug-addicted mother of 10—could have afforded the same defense that Sam got.
In fact, CPS was going after Sam while Halle was starving to death. Everything has an opportunity cost, and the opportunity cost of trying to take one child out of a loving, safe, and nurturing home may have been to abandon another to an anguished death of starvation.
For whatever reason CPS employees didn’t try as hard in Almita’s case as in Sam’s, it contributed to Halle’s death. So I have to ask: is Sam right? Was the difference between Sam’s treatment and Almita’s the race of the parents? Do CPS employees give preferential treatment to people of one race over another?
Almita, you see, is African-American, and Sam is as white as can be.
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