Saturday, November 21, 2009

Devil in an Orange Jumpsuit

Shaniya Davis.

I don't want to forget that name.

Eleven days ago, five-year old Shaniya was sold into prostitution by her mother, then subsequently raped and strangled by the man who, I presume, bought her. Her father had been caring for her for several years while her mother was in jail. Once her mother had been released and found a job and a home, he decided to let the child live with her mother. It's a decision that will cost him for the rest of his life.

I can't begin to understand what would have to go wrong in a person's brain to cause them to sell their own child into prostitution. Obviously there are severe mental illness issues going on for this woman. Honestly, though, I don't care. I am not a supporter of the death penalty, but my gut reaction to this crime would be a slow, torturous hell for the mother. I cannot begin to understand how or why things like this happen. I look at my own children and find the crime not only repugnant but incomprehensible. At what point does one stop looking at a child--their own child--as a human being and start looking at her as a commodity? How does that happen? Moreover, what in the world made this father think that it was a good idea to let his five year old child live with a woman who had proven herself so unreliable in the recent past? As a person who has the responsibility of caring for someone else's birth children, it is hard for me to fathom arriving at that decision. Although I don't believe the father should be held accountable legally for allowing his daughter to live with her mother, it is clear that he will--and should--hold himself accountable indefinitely. He has lost his child, but he is not a victim. His poor decision making, naivete, whatever you want to call it, has left him childless.

I look at the pictures of Shaniya's sweet face and I see the preschoolers I teach every day. I can so easily imagine her laughing, playing, building, reading, painting. Singing songs from Disney movies, playing dress up with her friends, riding her bike. She has been robbed of the rest of her life. But as I reflect on the story that struck me so heavily eleven days ago, I am reminded that we all have been robbed. This child was as important as my child, as your child, as any other child who is snuggling with her parents or cooking in the kitchen or playing soccer with her friends tonight. We were robbed as a society of a bright, potentially beautiful, light.

I don't know how we correct things so heinous. I do know that situations like this don't arise out of nothing. Mental illness is a tremendous weight upon millions in our country. And it's easy to write it off until there's a Shaniya Davis to remind us of the cost. Only eleven days later, we have moved on and forgotten the little girl from Fayetteville, North Carolina. Forgotten the crime that should mar our souls as human beings. But it won't. Because there are other things to focus on, other ways to spend our tax dollars and other events that touch our everyday lives more directly than the horrendous death of a five year old a thousand miles away. So we will bury her, and bury the loss, and forget.

Until there's another Shaniya.

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