Here in Republican America, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Especially if you’re a low-income, single mother of color, like Debra Harrell from North Augusta, South Carolina.
Harrell’s horrific story — as first reported on July 1 by WJBF-TV — is just one example of how our system cruelly punishes single mothers by forcing them into low-wage jobs that don’t pay enough to afford daycare.
Harrell was arrested and jailed earlier this month for letting her nine-year-old daughter play at the park alone while she worked her full-time shift at McDonald’s. The 46-year-old’s daughter was put into foster care.
Meanwhile, a smug, bitchy white mom who “enjoys the park with her family” told WJBF:
“I understand the mom may have been in a difficult situation, not having someone to watch the child, but at the same time, you’ve got to find somebody.”
Screw you, lady. Where in the Hell do you think Harrell can “find somebody?” You can’t just pull “somebody” out of a hat. If Harrell can’t afford daycare and has no available, reliable, or willing friends, neighbors, or family members, then there is no “somebody.”
And if you don’t know what not having “somebody” feels like, then you’d better thank your lucky stars and pray to God that you never find out.
Why can’t we moms help each other out more, instead of being so quick to judge each other? How hard would it have been to take an extra few minutes to talk to the girl and to her mother before drawing conclusions and making things harder on a vulnerable family that’s already struggling.
Obviously Harrell doesn’t HAVE “somebody” or she wouldn’t be stuck with the shitty “choices” of dragging her kid to McDonald’s, leaving her at a playground, or locking her up in a home that had just been broken into and robbed.
That’s right. The daughter normally came to work with her mother during vacations and sat at a table with her laptop. Then, the laptop got stolen, and she asked to stay at the park instead. The park was 1,000 feet from Harrell’s work place, and the daughter had a cell phone and a bicycle.
While this arrangement doesn’t seem optimal, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to allow a nine-year-old to play alone at a park either. After all, if she feels unsafe, she can always call her mom, who’s only 1,000 feet away. When did we become this nation of snotty, mean, paranoid, judgmental helicopter parents who never let their children go out and play unless they’re hovering close by?
This happens everywhere, every single summer.
And if you think this sort of thing only happens in red states, think again. Every summer, everywhere in the U.S., the kids get out of school, but the parents still have to work.
These parents either have resources — in the form of money or available friends, family and neighbors — to send their kids to camp or otherwise ensure supervision for their children during school vacations … or they don’t. And those who don’t are savvy enough to make danged sure their children never talk to anyone or leave the house.
Because, really, that was where Harrell screwed up. She was naive, and wanted her daughter nearby while she worked, at the playground enjoying some fun and fresh air. Had she told the girl to lock herself in every day until she came home, all this never would have happened.
News reports also claim that the park was over a mile away from the McDonald’s, but Harrell’s supporters counter that’s only if you’re driving, not if you’re walking. They also posted a map to prove it.
Now, Think Progress reports Harrell is back home and reunited with her daughter, but now she has no job because the McDonald’s fired her. Wish Harrell luck getting a new job with an arrest on her record. It’s a good thing she has a lawyer.
How conservative policies hurt single moms like Debra Harrell.
The 1996 welfare reform bill pushed welfare recipients into the work force, but a booming economy and fairly generous benefits eased the transition. Now, thanks to the GOP’s recession and draconian budget cuts, our welfare system is all stick and no carrot.
We still try to force welfare recipients — often single mothers — into the workforce, but there aren’t enough jobs and too many jobs are low-paying and don’t cover basic necessities like food, utilities, housing, health care, and childcare.
New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait — a parent who may now think twice before allowing his kids to play at his neighborhood park while he works from home — wrote:
“America has decided to punish Harrell if she fails to acquire full-time employment; her employment does not provide her with adequate child care; and the community punishes her for failing to live up to unobtainable middle-class child-care standards. There are many perpetrators in this story. Debra Harrell was not one of them.”
A sympathetic local preschool teacher, Tonya Cullum, also told WJBF:
“Some people may look at it [the playground] as a babysitter, the parents can’t afford to keep them in there. They have to keep in during school time because we pick them up at school, make sure they got a safe place, but during the summertime, it’s like find some family, grandparents or even let them stay home by themselves.”
Watch the news report from WJBF.
To help Harrell and her daughter out with a donation, click here.