It started off a routine day. My mom was getting me ready for daycare by making sure I took a shower, untangled my long black hair, and brushed my teeth. She put me in the backseat of the car in my carseat and made sure my seat belt was fastened. Instead of going straight to daycare, that day she stopped off at the grocery store. Walking into the grocery store, we were ambushed with men in uniforms and flashing lights. They were yelling at my mom that she was under arrest. Without hesitation and a second thought for me standing next to her, they grabbed my mom and put her in handcuffs. Although she was a cooperating person, they threw her in the back seat and separated us by putting me in the front seat of the cop car. They then proceeded to drive us to our home.
We lived in a two-story townhouse back then. It was tan with a long driveway. I remember getting out of the cop car and going into what used to feel like my home. I entered to witness policemen rummaging through our belongings. A policeman pushed my mom onto our couch and had me sit next to her, where we had to stay while the officers uncovered the drugs my mom had hidden throughout the house. I remember a policeman mocking my mom once he found what he was looking for by stating, “Now we have you on several felony charges.” My mom just sat there in silence. I recall my mom struggling in her handcuffs; she was thirsty. They would not let me go to the fridge to grab her water, as I had done so many times before; instead, I grabbed a day-old Coca-Cola can that was sitting on the coffee table, and helped her drink from it.
After a few hours, they took my mom away, leaving me there with a social worker while I waited for my grandma to arrive from work. When my grandma arrived, I was instructed to gather my things. In my youthful mind, I believed the amount of clothes I was packing up equated to the amount of days until my mother would be released—to the moment when she would be back home, making sure I showered, brushing my wild hair. So I proceeded to only pack a week’s worth of clothes. It wasn’t until my grandma explained to me the extensive consequences that were about to ensue that I realized this wasn’t just a week’s vacation at grandma’s: that I was leaving my home, leaving my mother, leaving my school to move in with my grandma. I was 7 years old.
It wasn't until I was 19 years old that I became conscious of this traumatic experience. The trauma I experienced somehow felt imaginary. How could this happen to any child? Why is the arrest experience so harsh that a child has to believe it was imaginary sometimes in order to get through it and its aftermath. The pain and outrage I feel is why I want to advocate for child-sensitive arrest protocols, data collection, and training. Although the barriers facing police officers when detecting whether children are present at the site of an arrest are complicated, the correct protocols should be followed to protect children from trauma. If a parent is fully compliant during arrest, then police officers should extend courtesy to their children. If a parent is not compliant, then removing that child from the scene should be followed. Before a parent leaves, the child should have the right to say goodbye to their parent with a hug and a kiss. It is time we stop treating the children of the arrested as an afterthought: they are watching and internalizing the effects of arrest, and the impact will stay with them forever.
Check out an example of child-sensitive arrest protocol implemented in Albany here.
Support Us (SUSU) raises awareness about and increases support for children of incarcerated parents. SUSU is a year-round effort with national partners, culminating in a month of action in October. Learn more at www.susu-osborne.org