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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Parents and Missing Children: The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations



"One thing Council Member May was afraid of was that it would only affect black families and people in Wards 7 and 8," says Austin. "They're not really going to enforce this in Ward 3, where there's less police presence. We really tried to narrow it so we weren't pulling kids from their families. We're trying to find ways to help the children, but we're not trying to put mothers behind bars."
Outside of Salvation, Children are the most precious gift that any can receive from God.  You would do anything for them.  You would go anywhere for them.  You would sacrifice your very life for their survival.  I have heard tales of women that have not eaten for days that their children might not starve from lack of food in the kitchen.  It is the problem when there is more month than money.  When you think of bravery and devotion, Rosie and George Fry come to mind.  Taken out to sea by powerful currents, there seemed no hope.  However, Robert and Debbie Fry, their parents, helped saved their lives and the lives of seven other children before they were drowned in the currents.  It seems the natural law of parenting is to save and protect your progeny above all else.  Even if the sacrifice results in death, it is a price worth paying.


I believed the recent efforts of the DC City Council on the "Relisha Rudd Law" would honor such devotion.  Ward 8 Council Member LaRuby May and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans co-introduced the bill that would establish reporting requirements of parents, custodians and guardians of minors that become missing children.  It would be a misdemeanor a parent, guardian or custodian to not report a child or children missing.  For children under 13 years of age, the reporting limit is 24 hours.  For children ages 14 to 18, the reporting limit is 48 hours.  Why does time matter?  According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention:

   (a) in 76 percent of the murders of an abducted child, the child was murdered within 3 hours of the abduction;

   (b) in 89 percent of the cases, the missing child died within 24 hours of disappearing;

   (c) in nearly 60 percent of the cases, more than 2 hours passed between the time someone realized the child was missing and the time police were notified; and

   (d) the primary motive for the abductor was sexual assault.

Parents, custodians and guardians are the first respondents.  They must confidently act and must do so with a quickness.  They can not alone act.  They must be able to depend on a law enforcement system that may react in real-time to secure the recovery of the missing child.  Time is a matter of life and death.

So what's the penalty for not reporting that your child may be in peril and that the City may be called upon to search the world to find him or her?  Failure to make report of child abuse is only $300, that's if the Judge doesn't drop the charges.  Who knows?  Talk about sincere decisiveness among incumbent legislators during an election year.  The legislation leaves the Mayor alone in charge of making that decision.  Based on DC's child abuse misdemeanor, maybe two bills and a couple of tickets to the policeman's ball will cover it.  Is this the price of devoted parenting in a just society?  Apparently, yes.

The Open Heart Close Case Campaign believes that this "Relisha Rudd Law", as co-sponsored by Council member Vincent Orange, is a watered-down version of our legislative submission to the DC City Council.  It follows this commentary.  The most succinct difference is that ours considers the heinous degree of inaction by a parent, custodian or guardian and deem it worthy of prosecution as a felony and not a misdemeanor.  We suggest, on conviction, imprisonment not exceeding 3 years and a fine of $12,500.  Why a felony?  We believe that, in the case of missing children, a parent that seeks to obstruct an investigation in discovering their whereabouts is committing an heinous crime against the child and society.  Regarding misdemeanors, prosecutors generally have a great degree of flexibility in deciding what crimes to charge, how to punish them, and what kinds of plea bargains to negotiate.  These are normally prosecuted through the DC Attorney General's Office.  In felony cases, court room procedures must be strictly observed so that the defendants' rights stay protected.  These cases are prosecuted through the federal criminal justice agencies.  In an environment where the City Council is more concerned about the well-being of the culprit than the recovery of the victim,  prosecuting a felony may well protect the rights of the victim more.  Yes, the DC City Council is soft on crime.  If any time, an essential choice to protect our children was necessary, it is now.


Severe crimes against society are easily dismissed as opportunities to "just" lock people up, especially women of color.  The pursuits of social justice and community health weigh heavily against the protections of our children.  This is why I find most shocking about the Council's version of the "Relisha Rudd Law", that its author questions whether there will be racial injustice in prosecuting this crime.  In fact, the assertion is that black mothers will be imprisoned more so that white mothers.  What's worse, the police will lock up East of the River mothers more so than West of the River mothers.  The author of the Council legislation seems to be at odds with even writing it.  It is as if she is personally contributing to the racial discord in America by holding parents accountable for neglecting their very own.  The assertion that only black women will be arrested and prosecuted for this crime is as much a distorted view of the criminal justice system as it is of women of color that ascribe to the natural law of parenting.  If black women are more subject to this crime, is this not the very chronic condition that the Council sought to identify and treat in its pursuit of community health policing?  Or is it happening so greatly in Ward 3 that Chief of Police Cathy Lanier should reassign officers to that area to enforce the law?  Hence, you project a silly disposition that you care for the kids but not at the risk of arresting those that put them at greatest risk.  It is difficult to protect our children when you believe the law and its enforcers are the enemy.


Caylee Anthony was a white child that went missing and was found dead.  Relisha Rudd was a black child that went missing and has not been found.  In each case, the parent had a major part to play in the nature of the child being absent from the home.  Absent and not reported were they.  We have grieved not because of their skin color or that the police were trying to make arrest stats.  We grieve because we had a chance to protect them and we failed.  Let us hope that child and parent advocates will rise up to make certain that strengthened legislation is passed and then, enforced.  It is time for the Council to do from the dais that which is necessary to reduce their attendance at vigils for children that have become members of the forsaken class--unresolved homicides, missing persons and exploited children.


The Open Heart Close Case Campaign 
Acknowledges the Efforts of 
Professor Charlotte Brookins-Hudson 
of the Legislation Clinic of the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law for Crafting the Relisha Rudd Law on our Behalf 

Councilmember

A BILL

_____________

IN THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
_____________________


To amend the Sex Trafficking of Children Prevention Amendment Act of 2014 to require a parent, legal guardian, or responsible party who has permanent care or custody or permanent or temporary responsibility for the supervision of a child 13 years of age or younger to notify, within a certain period of time, the Metropolitan Police Department that the child is missing; to require the Metropolitan Police Department to maintain online information on the status of missing children; and to require a parent, legal guardian, or responsible party who has permanent care or custody or permanent or temporary responsibility for the supervision of a minor to notify, within a certain period of time, the Metropolitan Police Department or a medical authority that a minor has died.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, That this
act may be cited as the “Relisha Rudd Mandatory Reporting of Missing Children and the Death of a Minor Child Amendment Act of 2016”.
Sec. 2. The Sex Trafficking of Children Prevention Amendment Act of 2014, effective May 7, 2015 (D.C. Law 20-276; 62 DCR 479), is amended by adding new sections 5a, 5b and 5c to read as follows:
Sec. 5a. Mandatory reporting of a missing child.
“(a) For the purposes of this section “missing child” means a minor 13 years of age or younger whose whereabouts are unknown to a parent, legal guardian, or responsible party who has permanent care and custody or permanent or temporary responsibility for the supervision of the minor.
“(b) Except as provided in subsection (d) of this section, a parent, legal guardian, or responsible party who has permanent care or custody or temporary responsibility for the supervision of a minor 13 years of age or younger may not recklessly or willfully fail to notify the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) that the minor is a missing child within 24 hours of the time at which the parent or other person knew or should have known that the minor is a missing child.
“(c) The MPD shall immediately report a missing child to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and to the Kidnapping and Missing Persons Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigations if the child has been:
“(1) Deemed critical missing by the MPD, as defined by MPD General Order 304-03; or
“(2) Missing for more than 15 days from the date a missing child report has been filed with MPD pursuant to subsection (a) of this section.
“(d) This section does not apply if the minor has already been reported as a missing child to the Metropolitan Police Department.
“(e) A person who violates this section is guilty of a felony and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 years and a fine of $12,500.
“Sec. 5b. Metropolitan Police Department online status of missing children.
The Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) shall list the status of all missing children 13 years of age or younger whose whereabouts are unknown to the parent, legal guardian, or responsible party on the MPD website where the public may access information on their status. The MPD shall transfer the names of children 13 years or younger who have been missing for 30 days or longer to the MPD’s Current Critical Missing Persons Cases website link.
“Sec. 5c. Mandatory reporting of the death of a minor.
“(a) Unless the death of a minor has already been reported to the Metropolitan Police Department or a medical authority, a parent, legal guardian, or responsible party who has permanent care or custody or permanent or temporary responsibility for the supervision of a minor shall report the death of the minor to the Metropolitan Police Department or to a medical authority, including a physician, hospital or the District Medical Examiner, within 2 hours of becoming aware of the death.
“(b) A person who violates this section is guilty of a felony and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 years and a fine of $12,500.”.
Sec. 3. Fiscal impact statement.
The Council adopts the fiscal impact statement in the committee report as the fiscal impact statement required by section 602(c)(3) of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, approved December 24, 1973 (87 Stat. 813; D.C. Official Code § 1-206.02(c)(3)).
Sec. 4. Effective date.


This act shall take effect following approval by the Mayor (or in the event of a veto by the Mayor, action by the Council to override the veto), a 30-day period of Congressional Review as provided in section 602(c)(1) of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, approved December 24, 1973 (87 Stat. 813; D.C. Official Code § 1-206.02(c)(1)), and publication in the District of Columbia Register.

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