Shanesha Taylor was at the end of her rope. Living in her SUV with her two children, the thirty-eight-year-old mother was on her last prayers, when she received word of a job interview on March 27, 2014. Homeless, broke, and desperate, daycare was not an option. When you live in a car, the cost of daycare has to be debated daily with the cost of actually feeding the children in your charge. Feeding usually wins.
With daycare out the question, Shanesha Taylor did the only thing she felt she could do. Not wanting to lose the job opportunity, she left her children – a six-month-old boy and a two-year-old boy – in her SUV, in the Arizona sun. A passerby heard the baby crying, called police, and Shanesha Taylor was arrested and her children taken away.
Ms. Taylor’s heartbreaking story has gone supernova, as people from all sides either support or criticize her misfortune. Her critics conveniently fail to recognize that Arizona has made MASSIVE cuts to its child care program, while spending another $1 billlion to keep its prisons functioning. A crowd-sourcing effort to help her raise funds for a legal defense has already netted over $80,000 and continues to grow.
My mother could have been Shanesha Taylor. In 1980, we lived in the Pink Houses housing project in Brooklyn. My mother was a teller at Chemical Bank, now Chase, and going to school nights at New York City Technical College. My life consisted of spending many hours home alone, locked in our apartment (it was the projects, being locked in, was far safer than being locked out), and having to fend for myself. I learned to cook, because I had to. Not just for me, but sometimes my mother depended on it. She would lay out instructions on how to roast a chicken, or what to do with a steak in a broiler and it was up to me not to burn down the place. If people then reacted the way they do now, my mother would have been arrested. I would’ve been carted away and perhaps adopted by some rich white family on Park Avenue. At least that’s the way I saw it on TV.
We were very poor and my mother was risking everything – including the state-approved cohesion of our family – in the hopes that she could give us a better life. She succeeded, by the way. And I never burned the place down. Well, almost, once, but that had nothing to do with cooking.
When you look at Arizona, only third to Florida and Mississippi in states that scare the hell out of me, you have to look at a state that’s also in the top ten in unemployment in the United States. You have to look at a place that has a record of mercilessly jailing the poor and a history of unfair prosecution. When you look at Arizona, you have to think that Ms. Taylor’s chances of a good outcome here are slim. Arizona’s known for being warm, but not exactly cuddly.
Your heart doesn’t have to be “bleeding” to grasp the concept of a mother caring for her children. The circumstances here are extreme, but they also illustrate how low our society has become. The richest nation in the world, and this is how people have to survive. Ms. Taylor’s desperation is that of millions of parents. Not in a third-world country, here. In Arizona, and Nevada, and Kentucky and everywhere. People need jobs, they need better lives for their children and when the old way isn’t working, sometimes you have to take a big chance. Ms. Taylor’s chance was that job interview and now her fate is not in the hands of an employer, but of the State of Arizona. Here’s hoping this one time, as they follow they State motto, Ditat Deus, “God Enriches”, let them also remember that God forgives.