Monday, August 06, 2007

A Tragedy On Many Levels

The 11-month-old girl stood in the tub, playing in shallow water with a 2-year-old girl, both looked after by a teenage mother home alone. The last moments of normal life in the third-floor apartment on Classon Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, ended that way, with one young mother, a pot of rice on the stove down the hall and two children in shallow water that would not be shallow enough.

“It was an accident,” said the mother, Jovanna Shiriver.

She is just 18 but looked even younger last month in her new surroundings, a visiting room at a jail on Rikers Island, her hair pulled in pigtails. Short and thin and draped in an adult-size gray jumpsuit, she looked less like an inmate than a girl in a schoolhouse play about jail. She said, “I don’t belong here.”

This story hits me in the gut. As a parent of two young children, I want to scream at this young woman for leaving an eleven month old in the bathtub. But, also as a parent, I totally understand how this could happen.

You are frazzled, missing sleep, trying to do multiple things at once. The oven alarm beeps. Do you run to get it and run back to the bathroom? Will your baby be screaming and inconsolable for 30 minutes if you pull them out of the tub when they just got in to play? Ask a person who has never had children, and never experienced the joys of a year of uninterupted nights of less than 5 hours of sleep and you will get one answer.

I would never leave an 11 month alone in the bathtub. I have put my baby on the bed on a towel real quickly as diarreah had sprouted through his clothes, only to have to go across the room to grab wipes and diaper. He could have fallen.

One time, I was taking adult people in my car for a change, and had taken off the child locks. The next morning, my toddler gets in the car, and sure enough flung the door wide open. My heart dropped into my gut. We were going a slow speed at the time, and he was properly secured in his booster seat, but he could have flown out, and my life as I know it would have been over. It would have been my fault.

This story goes on to detail a bit of the random nature of prosecution in cases like these. The underlying current is that parents like me, in the suburbs, don't get prosecuted as often for cases of momentary lack of judgement that injures or kills a child.
In tub-drowning cases, she said, age can be an important factor. Ms. Dwimoh has handled cases involving drowned children ranging from 4 months to 3 ½ years, and has weighed factors including whether the child was placed in the tub or climbed in. In 2003, a 10-month-old girl drowned in a bathtub of her family’s home in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, while her mother talked on the telephone. The mother had been bathing her son, not quite 2 years old, and left his side for as long as 15 minutes, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office said at the time. The girl had been playing in the living room, and made her way to the tub as the boy climbed out. The mother was not charged with any crime.

In a similar case in Brooklyn, a 9-year-old girl was dancing and playing all over the house while her parents watched television. In the bathroom, the girl strangled herself while playing with a shower hose, Ms. Dwimoh recalled. Again, no charges were filed.

This eighteen year old, on the other hand, needs to be seriously punished. The same thing occurs with babies left in cars. Some people are sent to prison, some people are allowed to bury their child and grieve. It's a judgement call. I come down on the side of punishing them all if it was an accident, or letting their grief be punishment enough. Our two tiered system of justice compounds the tragedy.