The mother of eleven
children, who were trapped inside an apartment
in Detroit when a fire broke out, was
arraigned for child neglect because she had
used a padlock to lock her door. She had
apparently gone around the corner to buy cigarettes.
While we can agree that
locking one's children into an apartment
with a padlock is not an act deserving of
praise, the response of the Detroit
"authorities" leaves me thinking that the
official sympathies are misguided. The
decision to protect one's children with a
lock is consistent with the current American
mania to protect ourselves with ever more
prisons, capital punishments, legions of
cops on the beat, and huge peace-time
military expenditures. But as disparities
of wealth increase, these measures cannot
protect us from ourselves. This mother's
mistake was really that she is poor, living
in a dilapidated building that is improperly
maintained, and in a neighborhood that is
unsafe for children. She is deserving of
"official" sympathy rather than being harassed
with an arraignment in a time of family crisis.
In Athens, Greece, where I spent three months
recently, children as young as three or four
play unattended with other children in the
center of the city. This is not "child abuse"
in some cities. Greek children are not
locked up because there is not an ever-present
sense of danger, and a mistrust of neighbors.
I would feel better if I'd read that the
"neglectful" arson victim was receiving aid
from the city of Detroit, and that the
landlord who had failed to provide proper
locks was being soundly rebuked.