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.