Kamala Harris Never Locked Poor Black Mothers In The Panopticon Over Truancy

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Day after day, I am flooded with dedicated trolls who spread maladroit (IMO) misconceptions about Kamala Harris that they obviously obtained from the opinion section of our “legitimate” media. If I were not media savvy myself, and a dedicated fact-checker, I might be in danger of falling for the okey-doke, just like those silly little trolls I block religiously do. I’d be factless in an alternative fact universe, and we can’t have that. I am known for bringing receipts. Far be it from me to say that I’m smarter than the average news junkie, that I have the best facts or even the best opinions. I let others say it for me, and then I hurry up and retweet them before they change their minds.

Do you think you know Kamala Harris from the many harsh opinion articles that flooded the web after she announced? You don’t. Many a Dem seems to think she’s a mean old baddie cop, one who locks up poor mothers maliciously, especially ones whose children missed a day of school. “Kamala locks up POOR BLACK MOTHERS IF THEIR KIDS PLAY HOOKY!!” has been a common refrain for months. It’s stupid, and it’s a lie.

In an article from Huffington Post, we see a woman named Cheree Peeples who was arrested due to her child’s truancy. This particular truancy stemmed from a number of unexcused absences that accrued due to her daughter’s battle with Sickle Cell Anemia. Now, I am a mother of a child who has severe autism, and there were times when I could scarcely console her enough to get her to cooperate with dressing and bathing, let alone to school. I’d hate to be pulled from my home early some morning, arrested, and sent to the magistrate for not being Mary Poppins. I can’t even sing.

My curiosity eventually got the best of me, so I looked into the case. And what I found was a bit weird. Peeples was probably (I didn’t find her charging documents) prosecuted under the law Kamala pushed for, but it appears that her arrest had nothing to do with the statewide law at all, unlike another mother who was prosecuted and sentenced to 180 days in jail. But that mom wasn’t BLACK, inner-city, poor, or in possession of any excuse for not sending her child to school, so we don’t hear stories about her case.

Though Kamala says she regrets the law being used to punish families, the attacks against her are often based on pieces written by people who cannot name one mother Harris locked up during her time as DA. That is the only period of time she would have had discretion over which cases were filed. Why is it that we can find no testimonials from mothers in the San Francisco area that Harris locked up? Because under the original version of the truancy law, the one Harris implemented, zero parents were sent to jail.

The article that blames the state’s truancy law, which Harris supported, as being responsible for the arrest of Peeples links to an article that tells us which program she was prosecuted for being in violation of. It also says the mother indicated that officers offered not to prosecute her if she would agree to attend parenting classes. She refused. She decided to fight. She fought for two years before the state gave up, and dropped the charges.

From the Orange County Register:

Holding parents accountable for truancy is part of Orange County’s Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership, a program involving local schools, law enforcement, the District Attorney’s office, Community Services Programs and the Orange County Probation Department. Since the beginning of the year, police in cities from Anaheim to San Clemente have identified 43 schools where students are exposed to gang activity. When any of the fourth through eighth graders at the schools start showing problems with behavior, academics or attendance, teachers, counselors and police step in.

The truth is, California has been using the criminal justice system to hold parents responsible for their elementary school-age children being truant for years.  I don’t know why the author blames Harris, when in fact, the child in question was in an Orange County-sponsored program called G.R.I.P,  and it is a program that predates the law Harris pressed for at a state level. It may not have seemed fair, or even been fair for officials to include her child in that program, regardless, the program existed long before the statewide truancy law.

What is GRIP?

GRIP is school-based program. Participating schools are selected or targeted by local law enforcement agencies, based on prevalence of gang activity and violence in the surrounding community.

GRIP does not work with gang members, but works with 4th through 8th grade students in the targeted schools who have displayed behavior indicating risk for later gang involvement.

Kamala Harris championed a different program during her time as DA, the program includes a “TARC” center, and it obviously has a different focus than the program in Orange County, although they were implemented at around the same time.

From SFUSD:

The TARC Center

  • Consolidates Truancy Intervention Resources into a “one-stop” location here students and their families can receive assistance from a variety of City agencies and departments, all working collaboratively.
  • Addresses Individual Psycho-social and Academic Needs to keep students on track towards completing school.
  • Engages Students for Re-introduction to the classroom.
  • Offers Referral Services to community-based organizations that may support in the truancy prevention action plan.
  • Provides Follow-up for tracking students’ progress.
  • Utilizes Legal Resources to address chronic truants.

These are clearly two different programs, so it’s apparent that the title, “The Human Costs of Kamala Harris’ War on Truancy” is complete fucking bullshit.

Peoples was caught up in the hugely complex forces Harris and her tough-on-truancy stance unleashed more than a decade ago.

Um? Not to nitpick or anything, but if the child was targeted, or profiled by Law Enforcement for their GRIP program in Orange County, how the hell did Harris unleash “hugely complex forces” when she was nowhere near Orange County and had nothing to do with the GRIP program? Is Kamala responsible for EVERY program that predates her term? Or just the cases involving Black women?

Truancy laws in the state of California left room for the prosecution of parents since 1977, and Peeples’ child was said to be in the GRIP program which focuses on Gang diversion. Had the Truancy law not passed, Peeples likely would have been prosecuted in the same manner as the parents in the program had in the years before. Prosecutors didn’t give out free passes before the law came into effect, they simply shifted from using one method to another after the new law came into play.

Contributing to the delinquency of a minor, which is the charge used before the truancy law, carries up to 1 year in jail, and up to a $2,500 fine; the Truancy law carries up to 1 year in jail, and up to a $2,500 fine. I see no big difference in consequences.

From Huffington Post:

California law has made it possible to prosecute parents of truant children since at least 1977. That year, the state defined a truant as a student who was more than 30 minutes late to school three times, or who had missed three days of school, without a valid excuse; a truant’s parents could be fined $100 on their first conviction. Truancy wasn’t technically a jailable offense at the time, but prosecutors who wanted to see jail time often charged parents with the crime of “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”

I know this is true, because I lived in the City of Los Angeles in the early 90s, before moving away, and went back in 1997 to finish High School, and I WAS truant. Constantly. The program GRIP is reminiscent of a gateway drug to the CRASH units we hid from on Cattaraugus, when we snuck past the on campus LAPD to ditch school, and hopped the gates by the lunch area at Hamilton High School to get free. We were accosted, assaulted, and arrested (Not me, too slick) by some of the biggest assholes in SoCal, until the year 2000, when the program was ended.

So, while I can clearly see the problematic nature of a program that uses law enforcement to arrest mothers of sick children for truancy, I cannot see how Kamala, and her push to take HER program statewide, is at fault for a program, GRIP, that began years before the statewide truancy program she backed came into play. You would have to convince me that the prosecutors would have not simply used the Delinquency laws they had been using up until the day the new truancy laws went into effect, if you wanted to change my mind.

As far as Peeples’ two-year-long battle with Orange County is concerned, Orange county is racist as hell, and I say that without rancor, it is what it is. I lived in Tustin for a while, so I know from first-hand experience how horrible the institutions there treat black women, especially those who cannot work full time and must accept assistance from the state. Do I blame Peeples for blaming Kamala for not understanding what it is like to be poor, black, and a woman in a place where blackness is despised? I do not. I blame Orange Country for despising blackness, for putting this woman through a 2-year long struggle for what amounts to no reason whatsoever, and for putting her child in their gang diversion program, GRIP, in the first place.

I, a cowardly woman when it comes to dealings with Orange County Police, would have simply chosen to take the parenting classes if I were Peeples. This does not mean she was wrong to choose to fight it out. Perhaps I have a belief in my own ignorance that forces me to doubt I know anything about anything, parenting included. I like classes,  I hate going to court, and I would hate to have a criminal record of any sort. But, she was right, and I am weak.

That Kamala Harris spent her career as Attorney General locking up people for their kids playing hooky, is automatically assumed at this point. The idea that she originated using the court system to solve truancy has become a common belief, regardless of the fact that California prosecuted parents long before she ever took office. Let me just say this: If you’re looking for one villain in this story, you will be looking forever. Our system isn’t simply broken, it was built on the shoddiest of foundations in the first place; in every crack and crevasse lie another opportunity for a black life to be destroyed. And that, quite frankly, is not the fault of Kamala Harris.