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Mom in jail for letting her daughter play in the park

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Last April, I ridiculed MSNBC host and Tulane professor Melissa Harris-Perry for a TV ad she did in which she said:

We have always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours, and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of ‘these are our children.’ So we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or that kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the households, then we start making better investments.

I thought the idea was dumb then and still do. But the actions of a South Carolina judge suggest that Harris-Perry isn't alone in her oddball views about children and the adults who care for them.

The court decided that Debra Harrell, the working mother of a 9-year-old daughter, deserved to cool her heels in a jail cell after committing the unpardonable crime of allowing the child to spend the day at a park unaccompanied, near her place of work.

That was not the original plan for how the little girl would spend her summer. The original plan was much worse. As a single parent with no one else to care for child, Harrell had arranged for the daughter to spend the days in the McDonald's where she worked. For entertainment, the child was able to play on a laptop that Harrell had scraped together the money to buy.

Then some cretin stole the laptop, and the child, who is as resourceful as she is resilient, asked if she dropped off at the park to play instead. Harrell agreed, first making her to give her daughter a cell phone.

The park is described by Lenore Skenazy of the Hit & Run blog as "a place so popular that at any given time there are about 40 kids frolicking.... There were swings, a 'splash pad,' and shade."

And so it went for two glorious days. Then on the third day, an adult asked the girl where her mother was. The daughter replied that she was at work. The shocked adult called the police. It was at this point that the State intervened. The authorities decided that the child had been "abandoned." They arrested the mother.

Harrell is now in jail and the child is in the custody of the Department of Social Services. Win-win? Maybe in Harris-Perry's dreams.

Not everyone is on the same page about whether the courts acted inappropriately. As Skenazy notes, the local ABC affiliate makes Harrell sound callous and indifferent. (A video of the news report is here.)

One woman in the segment asks, "What if a man would've come and snatched her?" It's a reasonable question. It could happen even in crowded park in broad daylight. It could also happen in a McDonald's during a busy lunch business.

When all is said and done, where do you draw the line? Skenazy notes in a tone of bitter irony:

If only the girl had spent her whole summer sitting in McDonald's — surfing the internet and eating a Big Mac instead of playing outside and getting fresh air — this never would have happened.

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