Again? Are the residents of New York City watching a horror movie on repeat? How else to explain the fact that for the second time in less than two weeks, two more young children have been murdered by their parents inside of a city homeless shelter — after their alleged attackers were already investigated by the Administration of Children’s Services.
Dimone Fleming, 22, is being held for psychiatric evaluation after cops arrested her in the deaths of her sons, DeShawn, who was 3, and Octavius Canada, who was 11 months. The two were found under a pile of wet clothes, having been slashed repeatedly in the neck and torso.
The night before, their mother had posted on Facebook about their demonic possession: “It’s only one true God and I repent from all wrong doings and negative influence . . . Leaving all things that’s no longer serves me . . . Thank you for your mercy.”
ACS investigated Fleming at least once, after the birth of her first son, whom she was not caring for properly. The findings of that investigation and whether there were any others since have not been revealed yet. But just as with the all-too-recent murder of 3-year-old Shaquan Butler, it is clear that the danger to Fleming’s children was hardly a secret from the city’s public agencies.
Her neighbors say they saw her behaving bizarrely and threatening her children, yelling things like “Here’s your f–king bottle.” How did the folks working at the homeless shelter miss these signs? The night of the children’s tragic murders, police found Fleming in her apartment naked and trying to set the place on fire. She had been living at this shelter for more than a year. Does this sound like the kind of mental illness that developed overnight?
Of course not. Just as our streets are now plagued by mentally ill homeless men shoving people in front of subway trains, urinating on sidewalks and punching passersby, so too many adults suffering from mental illness and addiction are caring for (or failing to care for) young children. The rights of the mentally ill to live on the streets are prioritized. And so are the rights of parents, even when the dangers to kids are significant and immediate.
And it wasn’t simply that her neighbors reported her. They offered her help. But as one interviewee explained: “She never took the help . . . She always wanted to pick an argument.”
Despite what you hear from advocates like University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Dorothy Roberts about how what families need is for us to “abolish” the child welfare system and simply offer more communal support to families at risk, some people really do need the intervention of authorities in order to rescue children. There is no substitute for child protective services.
The other tragic similarity between DeShawn, Octavius and Shaquan is that all three are black. According to an analysis done by the New York Times of 83 child homicides in New York City from 2016 to 2022, black children “were killed by family members at about seven times the rate for white and Asian children and three times the rate for Hispanic children.” (In the rest of the country, the disparity is only three times as high for child maltreatment fatalities, which include but are not limited to homicide.)
But the only racial disparities that child welfare leaders seem to care about are disparities in rates of investigations and removals to foster care. This is like only caring about disparities in arrests and incarceration without caring about disparities in crime.
A recent report on agency employees found many of them believe that their agency is racist. The report, which was featured in a front page article in The Times, was undertaken as part of an effort to “decolonize” child welfare practice and turn ACS into an “anti-racist” organization. The findings, then, are hardly surprising. When you indoctrinate people through schools of social work and other training programs into believing that their agencies are systemically racist and brimming with white privilege, what do you expect them to say? (Still only 50 people were surveyed out of an agency with a few thousand employees.)
At any rate, the effects of such messaging is clear. If a child welfare caseworker wants to show that she is not racist, she will leave black children who have been abused and neglected with their parents. Even if there are clear signs of mental illness. Even if the children are too young to look out for themselves or tell anyone else when something is wrong. Even if multiple neighbors and officials have seen worrisome behavior.
New Yorkers of all political stripes realize the problem with this relentless focus on race. Even the readers of The Times article decried how dangerous this ideology is within the realm of child welfare. Most of the hundreds of comments went something like this: “The difference in investigation rates reflects the amount of violence in each demographic, not racism on the part of caseworkers.”
Or, “This article and its implications will cause enormous danger to children.”
If Mayor Adams wants to put a stop to the woke nonsense that has infected ACS and put children in danger, he will have widespread support in this city and a ready-made slogan to boot: Black children’s lives matter.