Opinion: Daughter spends summer days in park, mother gets busted for it

Kids cavort in new Sunset Triangle Plaza play area in Los Angeles. A South Carolina woman was arrested for letting her daughter play in a public park during the day while the woman was at work.
(Los Angeles Times)

Who’s keeping count out there? Because here’s another one for you — another black mom arrested for trying to work and do her best for her kids at the same time.

Good job, America.

This time it’s South Carolina’s Debra Harrell, who gave her 9-year-old daughter a cellphone and let her play in a public park full of other children on a summer day while her mother worked at McDonald’s.

Are South Carolina public parks no longer good places for children? Every kid I knew, city kid or smalltown kid, ran all over town all day, all summer long, dawn to dusk, not just the parks, with no cellphones. Was that acceptable because our moms were working at home and not at McDonald’s?


You won’t have to wait long for the holier-than-thou scolds telling Harrell that she’s a criminally bad mom for sending her daughter to a public park.

While it takes a censorious and biddyish national village to tell women, “Don’t have an abortion, don’t use that kind of birth control and no, taxpayers shouldn’t have to support your immoral ways by paying anything for any birth control,” that same meddlesome village is nowhere to be found when said women and their children need some help with child care for the children the village was so insistent about her giving birth to — except to chastise.

If you believe there is a public obligation to enforce on women the credo that life begins at conception, you cannot also believe that the public responsibility for the welfare of that child ends at birth — without being a hypocrite.

Where are the dads? Good question; I don’t know. I believe kids having dads is a good idea, but a pretty bad dad is another matter, and wherever the dads have gone, the moms are still there, still trying to get it done for their kids.


As President Obama said in his State of the Union speech, the country needs to do away with family policies “that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.”

Congress approved a major child-care bill 43 years ago, but President Nixon vetoed it, worried that “for the federal government to plunge headlong financially into supporting child development would commit the vast moral authority of the national government to the side of communal approaches to child-rearing over against the family-centered approach.”

Again, good job, America. That would be the family-centered approach Debra Harrell was evidently trying to practice when she was arrested.

There’s an enormous difference between mothers who do the wrong thing while trying to do the right thing — like the Arizona mother who left her kids in the car in March during a job interview, after the babysitter was a no-show — and mothers who do the wrong thing, period, like another Arizona mother who was smoking dope before she put her 2-month-old in his car seat, then put him on the car roof and drove for a dozen miles before going back to look for him. (He fell off but was fine.) The first mother now faces two felony counts; the second got 16 years probation.


Since when is letting your 9-year-old spend the day in the park a crime?

It is not OK to leave kids in a car for 70 minutes. And it is certainly not OK to drive a dozen miles with an infant on top of the car.

But it’s definitely a long, long way from OK for society to fail to help the families it pays such pious lip service to.

Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes