by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
Some Black folks seem to just beg for punishment – or for the right to inflict it on fellow African Americans. In Detroit, public officials are demanding punishments, including jail time, for parents that don’t participate in school activities. “We have already seen the devastation wrought by a criminal justice system that constantly finds new forms of punishment that are always directed at black people.” Detroit’s Black-led government appears eager to “embrace the worst ideas about black Americans as a people.”
Freedom Rider: Parents in Jail
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
“In Detroit, they have embarked upon a plan to turn citizens into criminals.”
There are so many scoundrels, and there is so little time to expose them all. Sometimes the opportunities present themselves when these scoundrels willfully emerge from their closets. Wayne County Michigan District Attorney Kym Worthy is most in need of exposure this week.
Ms. Worthy announced that she will present a bill before the Detroit city council which will require all parents of public school students to meet with or contact their child’s teacher at least once every year. Any parent who fails to do so will face a three-day jail sentence. In a nation with a greater percentage of its population behind bars than any other on earth, and half of those persons being black, the worst scenario possible is to enact a new punitive measure in a majority black city.
Neither Ms. Worthy nor her supporters in the Detroit city council have given any data on levels of parental involvement or lack thereof in that city’s public schools. Without data indicating any need for such severe punishment or input from the educators who can give expert guidance, they have embarked upon a plan to turn citizens into criminals. It is a solution in search of a problem and a solution that will inevitably be harmful to the community.
Beating up on black people is the surest path to fame, fortune and political success. Worthy made a name for herself prosecuting former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and like most members of her profession, can always use high profile media exposure to climb the political ladder. Black Detroiters will be the losers, stigmatized and facing an unforgiving criminal justice system all because politicians are looking for career success.
“Black Americans are perhaps the biggest believers in assessing self-blame for conditions in their communities.”
As bad as it is, Worthy’s proposal may gain public support. Black Americans are perhaps the biggest believers in assessing self-blame for conditions in their communities. The death of political movements for change, combined with political success for conservatives, have created a highly dubious notion that black individuals are most responsible for the external conditions which effect their lives. The end result is self-hatred and a willingness to embrace the worst ideas about black Americans as a people.
From the war on drugs, to welfare “reform,” to child support enforcement which doesn’t send money to needy children, black people have been proponents of legislation which makes their already vulnerable situation all the more tenuous. The war on drugs has created a system of mass incarceration, a new Jim Crow. Welfare reform punishes individuals who are the least able to emerge from poverty and reduces what is an already weak safety net. Child support enforcement puts money in state coffers, enriches private businesses that collect the money, and puts fathers in a permanent state of debt peonage from which they can never emerge. Should they be unemployed or incarcerated, the amount owed is not forgiven and they risk reimprisonment or the loss of motor vehicles and other licenses which may keep them from working and supporting their children.
“Black Detroiters will be the losers, stigmatized and facing an unforgiving criminal justice system.”
Simply put, enforcement remedies, no matter how well intentioned, end up hurting black people. No one is opposed to parents being actively involved in their children’s education, but to have a law which mandates that involvement and leads to criminal prosecution will surely create more harm and move thousands of people who are now deemed law abiding into a criminal status.
The siren song is the same. Don’t we want an end to drug dealing in our neighborhoods? Shouldn’t dead beat dads be forced to support their kids? The answers are yes and yes, but the remedies that increase opportunities for punishment only serve a system intent on keeping as many black people as possible in a state of semi-slavery.
Criminal records destroy everything from voting rights, to the ability to get college loans, or live in public housing. We have already seen the devastation wrought by a criminal justice system that constantly finds new forms of punishment that are always directed at black people.
“The remedies that increase opportunities for punishment only serve a system intent on keeping as many black people as possible in a state of semi-slavery.”
This proposal is a terrible idea and the sanctimonious drivel from the misleaders should be seen for what it is. Worthy even uses the words of Malcolm X to bring this nonsense to fruition. "We have to find any means necessary to get parents involved." Worthy may be a scoundrel, but she is no fool. She knows her audience and she knows that evoking a beloved hero will move black people to her point of view.
By now we know what happens when criminal remedies are used to address serious problems. Quotes from martyrs shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking that good can come from punitive solutions already proven to be failures. Incarceration should be reserved for violent criminals. Drug users, inattentive parents or unemployed fathers shouldn’t have to join them. The parental jail proposal in Detroit ought to be seen for what it is and should be dead on arrival.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.com.