Originally published to The Juan Percent in April 2015. I found this again recently, and found it still resonated with me.
Earlier this month, Danielle Meitiv’s two elementary school aged kids were yet again picked up by Child Protective Services. This time, they were about 5 minutes from home. And this time around, they were held away from their parents for hours, and denied food and restroom access. The kids are 6 and 10. Apparently, a ‘neighbor’ called the cops, who then called CPS. And then this went viral yet again.
Today, the Washington Post published a response from Montgomery County offering clarity on the legality of allowing children to be unescorted in public. In sum, the police do not need to send children to CPS if they do not suspect neglect, and the kids should be taken home.. That was clear from the opening of the story. But then the rest of the story talks about the ambiguities the 6-page memo introduced yet again. At the very least, it offered no clarity on whether a neighbor’s call to report unescorted kids would immediately trigger an investigation of neglect.
This situation has struck a chord with me. I don’t have kids, but I like kids. I minored in Education, spent 10 years working with and teaching kids at summer camps, and I started my working life as an education policy analyst studying the No Child Left Behind Act.
I’ve also made some very deliberate life decisions in order to raise what may be called “Free Range” kids: Juan 6 and I purposefully settled in a city with after-school and summer camp programs that are way more robust than what our parents were able to find for us as kids. We also bought about a quarter mile from our local elementary school, which I’m excited about because it’s the only school that is still majority minority. Assuming our kids are capable of the responsibility of caring for themselves, we expect to let them walk to and from school on their own or out to extra curricular activities, also on their own.
As their (future) parents, we are committed livable streets and community activists because we want infrastructure in place that allows our kids to be independent. This means safe sidewalks and safe, highly visible crossings. This means buffered bike paths. This means street trees, and walking buses, and more kids walking, and walking in groups. This means changing the road geometry in front of our street in order to cut the 85% percentile speed to under 15 miles an hour (so I can lobby the max limit down to 20.) This means robust, affordable, and engaging after-school programming that my kids can access without my having to take them there myself (because I will be working to support them, and to be a productive member of society).
That said, our kids will be mixed race. We don’t really know what they will look like, but given what J6 and I look like, it’s highly unlikely they will elicit the kind of suspicion that brings worry and fear to the minds and hearts of mothers of black (and brown) sons in the U.S. We also live in an urban place that is, comparatively speaking, quite sterile. We don’t have the same kind of gang turf battles and active street-level drug dealing in Santa Monica that they do elsewhere.
But absent in this discussion about the Meitivs’ situation and the free range kid movement is what does it mean to be a child of color in a neighborhood more like the one I grew up in (just north of Koreatown), and less like an affluent section of suburban Maryland? If the Meitivs’ kids were black, would the police and neighbors have been as concerned in the same way? Would they have called the cops out of concern for the child? Or out of “concern” for their own safety?