Cultural Disintegration

I haven’t written a blog in weeks.  I’ve just been the literary equivalent of “struck speechless”.  I was summoned for jury duty early this month, and selected for a jury to hear a murder trial.  The defendant was charged with second degree murder in the death of a girlfriend’s 22 month old son.  It was the most eye-opening, horrible, horrific case I’ve ever heard, and I’m still having dreams about it.  Its one thing to read about our society’s pathology and quite another to see it up close and personal.

The defendant was a 28 year old man who has four illegitimate children by four different mothers.  He hasn’t been the ideal father.  His oldest daughter has been raised by his mother because the baby’s mother was only 14 at the time she gave birth.  That child is now with her natural mother, who has finished school and is able to support her.  His second child has been raised partly by his mother and partly by the baby’s natural mother.  The third child is with its natural mother.  The fourth child is being raised by relatives because its mother is in jail.  According to the defendant, “I don’t pay bills, I don’t do housework, I don’t take care of kids.  Its not my responsibility.”

The defendant really lives everywhere and nowhere.  He has usually had more than one girlfriend at a time, friends, and always the fallback of his mother’s home.  He might show up at a girlfriend’s house at midnight and stay the night, or stay over with a friend, or sleep at his mother’s house.  He truly has no address.  Sometimes he has a job, and sometimes he doesn’t.  He has been arrested several times for assault against a girlfriend.

The child who was murdered belonged to one of his girlfriends.  The baby had been reported to Child Protective Services twice before, and the cases were closed for “invalid report.”  There is currently a lawsuit against CPS, who truly let this baby down.  By the time of the second report, the child had broken ribs, cigarette burns, numerous bruises and welt marks.  At the time of the second report, the defendant was “in a relationship” with the baby’s mother…whatever that meant, as his relationships were clearly not monogamous.  It was reported, however, that he disciplined the baby by hitting it with a belt–as young as 18 months!!

The baby’s mother hasn’t exactly a stellar record, either.  She was involved in slugging matches with the baby’s natural father when the baby was newborn, and he moved out by the time the baby was a couple months old.  Mom worked at various times and at various jobs, and whenever she was at work she had multiple backup babysitters–neighbors of all ages and backgrounds, relatives, numerous cousins, friends, etc.  Some of the homes appeared ok, some were “trap houses” where various illegal activities were taking place.  The only stability was the paternal grandma who took the baby for 48-72 hours whenever she had days off from her job.  She kept the baby with her overnight during those times.  She was one of the reporters of the child abuse.   It appeared that the baby’s mom took him off milk at 5 months of age and he had rickets, as well as all the evidences of overt abuse noted above.

The morning the baby’s mom left her baby with the defendant, she was going to a doctor’s appointment because she believed she was pregnant with the defendant’s baby.  According to the medical examiner, the baby died of either a massive blow or crushing injury to the abdomen, a couple of hours after the mother left.  What the jury couldn’t know was whether the defendant was simply angry at being left with the baby and manhandled it, or if he was engaged in deliberate child abuse.  The baby had all the usual marks seen before as well as some recent head traums and cerebral edema.  There was confusion about who was abusing the baby, exactly when the abuse took place  and the possibility that  more than one person had been abusing it.  Anyway, the defendant was convicted of manslaughter, the baby’s mom was convicted earlier of child abuse and serving a five year sentence, and the baby, of course, is dead.

What still haunts my dreams is the unconcern expressed by both the baby’s mother, and the defendant.  They were like hollow, unfeeling people.  As a fellow juror noted, she had also grown up in poverty, but this was a culture shock to her, because in her day poor people loved their kids.

Both the defendant and the baby’s mother grew up without knowing their father, and indeed lived in homes where the male influence was either absent or revolving.  In the case of the baby’s mother, she didn’t know either of her parents, and was very much the same kind of  “village child” her dead baby had been.

When I was in college I studied sociology, psychology and criminal justice.  What we learned over and over was that children need stability and two parents.  The face of poverty is most often a female headed household.  Children with no dad are lower achievers, and children who grow up in homes with revolving men are more likely to experience violence, and be violent themselves.  I doubt this information is any less true today.

Soon after the trial was over, I saw a headline stating for the first time the majority of babies born in America are born to unwed mothers.  God help us!!!!

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