Police in Georgia this week discovered the body of 7 year old Jorelys Rivera. She had been abducted near a playground at her apartment complex, taken to an abandoned apartment, raped, stabbed and brutally beaten. The case of disgraced former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky took another sordid turn this week as he was arrested on new charges related to the alleged sexual abuse of minors. Presidential candidate Republican Newt Gingrich thinks the only way poor children can be inculcated with “values” is by making them work, even as janitors cleaning their schools. None other than Donald Trump has added his two cents to this ridiculous notion. A prominent Black minister takes a leave of absence from his pulpit after settling a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him by several young men he had mentored. The Catholic Church is still reeling from a wide-scale sexual abuse scandal and feeling the effects of the actions of wayward priests. New data shows an increase in child poverty in our nation.
By all accounts, America is failing its children.
As a society we give lip service to protecting and supporting our children. Politicians on the campaign trail habitually hold babies and plant a kiss on their cheeks for the ultimate photo op. Speeches by lawmakers, educators and clergy inevitably include references to ‘the children are our future.’ Yet, by almost every measure we fail to live up to our responsibility in protecting our most vulnerable citizens. It is sickening to watch what is unfolding in our country. As the political rhetoric ratchets up, our attention toward the needs of children is spiraling downward. To be truthful, this country could really give a damn about kids.
Episodes like that which is alleged to have occurred at Penn State and the murder of children like Jorelys Rivera are not rare occurrences. They occur with frightening regularity in America. Children are abused under the watch of state child protection agencies and murdered in neighborhoods where residents pay little attention to street activity or keep a watchful eye. While politician engage in a silly debate over whether the Founders intended for the Second Amendment to turn neighborhoods into shooting galleries, the blood of innocent children victimized by gun violence flows down streets. We blame children for their poor academic performance, then turn our wrath toward teachers and parents, but starve public school systems of the financing they need based upon the ignorant belief that ‘money doesn’t matter’ in delivering educational services. Yet, every politician stands up and supports public investment for sports stadiums for million-dollar athletes and multi-million dollar team owners. We are at our hypocritical best when it comes to protecting the interests of children.
Let’s be clear and keep it real. Children are for the most part pawns. We drag them out when it benefits the agenda of adults. We turn our heads, looking away from clear and present dangers because children simply don’t register in our cost-benefit analysis. Even parents are guilty of exposing their children to environments that are not healthy and often times recognizably dangerous out of sheer irresponsibility. To survive as a child in this country is increasingly a challenge because adults have simply dropped the ball.
In our national narrative there are few voices speaking out for children. It is why I have such respect for Marian Wright Edelman and her decades-long commitment to the work of the Children’s Defense Fund. However, if our children are to have any semblance of opportunity, let alone live long enough to reach adulthood, we had all better step up. Becoming an adult should not be a game of chance. As it is, Vegas bookmakers could give odds on the probability of survival for children in communities throughout our country. If nothing else motivates us to action on behalf of kids, the picture of angelic Jorelys should shame us into making children our priority.
Walter Fields is the Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.