If you haven’t been to BrainChildmag.com lately, definitely check it out. This issue is good. I want to highlight one more article from the magazine: “Guilty as Charged.”
In it, writer and professor Bridget Kevane was arrested in Bozeman, Montana, for leaving her three children and two friends alone at the mall. The two oldest children — girls — were aged 12 and they were left in charge of an 8-year-old, a 7-year-old and Kevane’s youngest daughter who was 3 at the time.
Details of the incident became clear later. The kids had gone into Macy’s after lunch; it was to be the final stop of the afternoon. Natalie and her friend decided to try on some shirts and left the three younger kids in the purse section by the cosmetics counter—which, it’s true, was against the rules that I had laid out for them.
While the girls were in the dressing room, some Macy’s employees spotted the three younger kids and called mall security. When Natalie and her friend returned less than five minutes later, all the kids were taken away to Macy’s administrative office where they were held until the arrival of the city police. The kids–who were now being treated as victims of abuse–were not allowed to use their cell phones to call me, because I was now considered a negligent mother.
In making their decisions, the mall police and city police relied upon the statements of four Macy’s employees who worked the cosmetic counters, though it became clear later in written statements that some of the workers were not even in the store at the time, and that others had badly misestimated the younger kids’ ages to be two, three, and four (rather than three, seven, and eight). The rest of the employees’ stories vary wildly in time, place, and their perception of what actually happened.
At any point in the course of events, the Macy’s employees, the mall security guards, the police, or the city prosecutor could have chosen to view my decision to drop my children off at the mall as an innocent moment of faulty judgment. They could have slapped me on the wrist, or warned me, “Don’t do that again,“ or settled for any number of lesser charges. After all, there is no law in Bozeman against dropping your children off at the mall.
But instead my actions were considered criminal neglect, “violating a duty of care.“ Why? As the pretrial procedures dragged on, I began to feel I was caught in a culture war, or perhaps several wars—town vs. gown, native Montanan vs. outsider, and working mother vs. working mother.
The city attorney made no secret of the fact that her own parenting choices informed her decision in backing up the police officer. She told my lawyer in their first meeting that she also had a daughter and would never have left her at the mall. She also said she believed professors are incapable of seeing the real world around them because their “heads are always in a book.“ Her first letter to my lawyer ended on a similar theme: “I just think that even individuals with major educations can commit this offense, and they should not be treated differently because they have more money or education.“ Despite the fact that Montana professors are among the lowest paid in the nation, and that undoubtedly the prosecutor has a law degree herself, she nevertheless categorized me as someone trying to receive special treatment.
At the end, Kevane’s attorney did not consider her contrite enough or sympathetic enough to stand trial. He eventually worked out a deal with the prosecution and Kevane received only community service as punishment.
Kevane is a good writer. Even though the article was written in her perspective, I found myself not feeling sympathetic towards her. Generally I would agree with her that parents should trust their instincts and the public should not get involved. But it sounds like she demonstrated some bad judgement here.
While I do remember going to the mall and movies alone at 12 — without my parents’ consent as they were strict — I was never asked to supervise younger children in those settings. Caring for a 3-year-old is a big responsibility.
Still, I think a trial and jail time would have been excessive punishment especially for a first-time offense. Community service sounds about right.
What do you think? Should parents be prosecuted for leaving very young children unattended?