by Dr. Boyce Watkins
If you’re looking for a strange brand of justice, you might have found it. Tanya McDowell, a Connecticut mother who was accused of sending her child to a school that is outside her home district, has been sentenced to 12-years in prison. The mother pleaded guilty to fraudulently enrolling her young son in a school in the Norwalk district and stealing $15,000 worth of educational services in the process.
The mother was sentenced to 12-years total, suspended after five and has to pay back $6,200 in restitution to the city of Norwalk. The sentence also includes four counts of drug possession and distribution.
At the time of the incident, McDowell was homeless. Police claim that she was using her baby sitter’s address to keep her child enrolled at a Kindergarten in Norwalk, when she was supposed to be using the schools in Bridgeport, which are of far lower quality.
Darnel Crosland, McDowell’s attorney, says that the biggest loser in all of this is McDowell’s son, who no longer has his mother around to raise him.
“That’s the sad part. He’s with his grandmother and she’s doing the best to raise him,” Crosland said. “I think you should measure her not by the fact that she was arrested for selling drugs but what has she done for her child.”
The case of Tanya McDowell serves as a microcosm of all the reasons why our justice system is designed to create a society that is unsafe, oppressive and racially-segregated. After hundreds of years of hoarding wealth that was not made available to blacks, whites are now able to afford shiny new schools, with plenty of supplies, giving their kids a high quality education. Millions of others, mostly black and brown people, are relegated to low quality schools, where overworked, underpaid teachers don’t even have enough books.
When we quietly endure our oppression and ask for government help in achieving educational equality, we are accused of asking for a handout. But when mothers like Tanya take matters into their own hands in order to give their kids a better life, they are then incarcerated for stealing something that should have rightfully belonged to their kids in the first place.
I spoke with Tanya McDowell two years ago when her case first emerged in the media. Yes, she was involved with drugs, and we discussed that. But what we also discussed was her deep concern for giving her son a better life and how well he was adjusting to his new school. In Tanya’s voice, I heard a mother who felt that, in spite of her own personal short-comings, she was determined to help her son have a better future than the one the world had given to his mother.
I’m not sure how authorities can argue, in any way, that Tanya’s son is better off without his mother around to raise him. I’m also not sure how they can claim that putting this boy’s mother in prison is going to reduce the chances that he grows up and also becomes part of the prison industrial complex. The fact is that an equal and high quality education should be a fundamental American right and we should all be offended that our educational system remains both separate and unequal.
There are millions of other women who, like Tanya, have sent their kids to the “wrong” school to give them a chance to succeed. In a country where it was once illegal for slaves to learn how to read, we now have laws that criminalize parents who wish to help their kids learn as well as the kids in the suburbs. Many of these parents would agree that good mothers should NOT be prosecuted for doing what is right for their children, and I am certainly one of them.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and author of the book, “Black American Money: How Black Power Can Thrive in a Capitalist Society.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. Join Dr. Watkins and Min. Louis Farrakhan in Chicago for a summit on “Wealth, Education, Family and Community: A New Paradigm for Black America on March 30 at U. Illinois at Chicago. You can RSVP by clicking here.