Voices | Dec. 5-12

Woman cries over senseless beatings in Philly
What can the city do to stop the rising tide of attacks at the hands of teens? | Image screenshot

The Shout Out

“I felt like my face was bubbling, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I kept screaming, ‘I can’t see.'”

– A 17-year-old victim to 6abc following another attack by a teen mob in Center City last week.

Your turn:

Is there anything to be done to stop these attacks? Send your thoughts to voices@philadelphiaweekly.com or send us your message on social media using #PWVoices

Wrestling with what’s right

Hello Editor: 

This is in response to the article [Kerith Gabriel] wrote and posted in [the Oct. 31 issue]. 

You mentioned the event you took part in for black male empowerment. I’m late replying as it’s been roughly one month, so my apologies. However, I’ll be brief. I’m a black man also and reside in the Frankford section of Philly. I love your paper, and so I say from one brotha to another to keep doing what you do. 

Now about your piece…

Yes. I think we as black men have that homophobic gene just imbedded in us since by nature, we are, and have been, classified as conservatives. But with this narrative for decades throughout basically every media conglomerate that’s pushing the envelope for black women to behave more masculine while at the same time having black men behaving more effeminate, unfortunately, we’re seemingly accepting this “new” way. 

I, for one, do not approve of that lifestyle being a heterosexual male – including a Christian. And in my personal opinion, the worst thing to be in this world – especially in this era – is a black male Christian conservative. Dangerous because of the non-conformity.

But I digress…

I wonder why that brotha emphasized that it’s “not that kind of a party” but wanted other men to perform that “exercise?” He could’ve just had the traditional Q&A forum regarding the $1 million and how we could better this city. But that? I prefer to stare into my woman’s orbits. Not some strange dude’s. Perhaps he’s hiding up in the “down-low” closet himself and assumed most of the black men at that event were bisexual or all-out gay [because] let’s face facts here … there are numerous amounts all over. 

But who knows? Anyway, that’s all. 

I just wanted to put in my two pennies. Happy Holidays to you and yours. Blessings.

– Gerald Stokes | Frankford

Turning around the city’s child welfare

Amid all the despair cataloged in The Kids Are Crying, Courtenay Harris Bond’s excellent series about what Philadelphia Weekly editor Kerith Gabriel calls “the great mindfuck that is Philadelphia’s child welfare system,” there are the first signs of hope.

That hope can’t be found in anything the Philadelphia Department of Human Services said – but in what it did not say. Although still prone to misdirection and evasion, DHS no longer is denying that Philadelphia tears apart families at the highest rate among America’s biggest cities. Instead, the Department of Human Services offers a list of initiatives to provide actual human services so children are not taken away when family poverty is confused with “neglect. 

If they are functioning as described – and no one should take this agency’s word for anything – they are worthy initiatives. But they have not yet accomplished much. In 2018, the most recent year for which data are available, Philadelphia children were torn from their parents 2,718 times – that’s only 170 fewer removals than the previous year.

And none of these initiatives would have helped the children of Yolanda Walker-Jackson. She was forced to jump through all sorts of hoops because she smoked pot to control severe nausea while pregnant – the sort of thing white middle-class mothers can brag about in Facebook groups. When Walker-Jackson couldn’t manage all the hoops, her children were taken.

She didn’t need a “parent café” or an “empowerment center” – she needed DHS to get the hell out of her life. Instead, DHS treated her children the way the Trump Administration treated children at the Mexican border – tearing them from their mother and each other and consigning them to multiple foster homes. 

“Now my children are traumatized for the rest of their lives …” Walker Jackson said.   

It’s not just common sense that supports her assessment. Study after study has found that, in the typical cases seen by workers for agencies such as DHS, children left in their own homes fare better even than comparably-maltreated children placed in foster care. And, of course, Walker-Jackson’s children weren’t abused by her at all.

That’s before we even get to the high rate of abuse in foster care itself, a rate shown by independent studies to be vastly higher than what agencies self-report. The harm doesn’t end there. All the time wasted persecuting families like Walker-Jackson’s is, in effect, stolen from finding children in real danger. That’s almost always the real reason for headline-grabbing horror stories about child abuse deaths.

The DHS take-the-child-and-run mentality makes all children less safe.

Real change requires more than adding a few services, it requires giving up the near-absolute power DHS wields over the lives of impoverished families. DHS should follow the lead of New York City and fund high-quality family defense, in which families get a lawyer, a social worker and, often, a parent advocate who’s been through the system herself. A massive study found that this approach significantly reduced the time spent in foster care – with no compromise of safety.

That’s because it’s not a way to get “bad parents” off – it’s a way to craft alternatives to cookie-cutter “service plans” like those that made everything worse for Walker-Jackson’s children – and a way to tell DHS to butt out when it shouldn’t be involved with a family at all. In many cases, the federal government will now reimburse half the cost of this kind of representation.       

A network of such offices in Philadelphia would be real “Family Empowerment Centers.” And they would show that DHS Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa really wants to be the leader who finally turned the agency around.

Richard Wexler is executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. 

– Richard Wexler | Alexandria, Va. 

Save a life, get your kid vaccinated 

I stand next to the bed of a child who is no longer breathing on his own. Machines are doing the work for him. To allow the machines to do their work, I give medications causing the child to remain still. I do not want him fighting the machine that is keeping him alive. 

We pray for another chance for this kid to walk, run and hug his parents, to live. 

The cause of this all? Pertussis (whooping cough). A disease that when I started my job as a registered nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit was rarely seen because most kids were vaccinated against it. Now it is plaguing our community because fewer children are being vaccinated. 

Children are born with immune systems that are not fully developed, which makes it easier for them to get sick. Many diseases are spread from person to person. One person from your town gets infected, now your space is contaminated. Being vaccinated means even if you are exposed to the illness you will not become sick nor will you be able to spread the germs. Protect yourself, protect others.

A bill was presented in the U.S. Senate called the “Vaccine Awareness Campaign to Champion Immunization Nationally and Enhance Safety Act of 2019” (VACCINES Act). The goal of this bill is to provide the public with facts so they can make informed decisions. Community programs will provide science-backed, honest facts regarding vaccines. The hope is to increase vaccination rates before we are faced with a devastating outbreak.  

I understand people may think the government should not tell them how to make health decisions. As a health-care professional, I believe when an issue becomes a public health safety concern, it is time for the government to get involved. Did you know your odds of dying in a car accident are 1 in 77? Your odds of developing a serious reaction to a vaccine are one in a million

We still get in our cars every day, there is no excuse not to vaccinate. 

History has shown us children will die if we stop vaccinating. According to the CDC, in 1974 80 percent of the children in Japan received the pertussis vaccine and there were zero deaths related to this disease. As rumors spread that the disease wasn’t a threat anymore, some stopped getting the vaccine. By 1979, 41 children died due to pertussis. 

We cannot repeat that history.

 Efforts to end smallpox were much more successful. This is a history that we need to repeat. We destroyed the disease by continuing to vaccinate until it no longer existed. We killed the disease by not allowing it to kill us. We can do this with present diseases like measles and pertussis. Vaccinate now as a way to end the disease so your future grandchildren will never need the vaccine. 

It is up to us to learn from past mistakes. We need to listen to the facts given to us by the professionals. The safety and effectiveness of vaccines should not be left to social media. That is why we need the VACCINES bill to pass so we can spread the facts.

Our Sen. Bob Casey is a member of the committee in which the VACCINES bill currently sits. Log onto his website and contact him, please let him know you support the VACCINES Act.

You always put your child’s seat belt on in the car even when you don’t expect a car accident, just in case. The disease is no different. Prepare for the unexpected, do not become a victim. Vaccinate your children. 

– Brianna Hafetz | University of Pennsylvania


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