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Pushing Cops to Consider Kids When Arresting Parents
While some New York police agencies already avoid having kids witness a parent's bust and take steps to ensure care after Mom or Dad are detained, advocates say want more done to limit the effect of arrests and incarceration on children
By Rachel Blustain Monday, Apr 15, 2013
“It was early morning, March 2009. Angelica, 3, was fast asleep with her mother in a bed at the back of her grandmother's apartment in Astoria, Queens, when 10-15 police officers entered with a warrant to raid the apartment for drugs.
For Angelica's mother, Jessica Venegas, drug dealing had been a normal part of growing up, and it seemed normal to her and her brother to make their money that way too. While Venegas sold her drugs on the street away from her daughter, it was her brother's drugs, sold out of their mother's home, that the police were looking for that early morning.
The sleep of small children can be otherworldly, and that night Angelica slept on, in another world, while the police yelled to Venegas to get up out of bed, and Venegas yelled back to take care, that she was there with her daughter. Angelica slept while the police ransacked the apartment and handcuffed her mother, her uncle, and her grandmother, guns drawn. Miraculously, she slept while her uncle's two pit bulls hovered over her protectively, growling at the police to stay back. She slept while the police captured the dogs, cutting their jaws and splattering their blood on the floor and the walls in the process.
And then it was time to wake Angelica up.
There were the officers, with their badges, their guns and their walkie-talkies. There was her mom, in handcuffs. And there was the blood. But nobody explained anything to Angelica. The female officer simply dressed her and asked who could look after her. Venegas said they could take her to a neighbor until her sister came.
"You don't deserve to have your child," Venegas recalls one of the male officers telling her. Then motioning to the female officer, he added: "You're lucky. If it weren't for her, we'd be sending your daughter to child protective services and you'd never see her again."
As Venegas sat on her brother's bed and looked out at her daughter standing silently in the hallway staring back at her, she thought to herself: "I can't believe I let this happen. I can't believe I let her down."
Growing consciousness about impact of arrests
Twenty-five years ago, one out of every 125 children in the United St
ates had an incarcerated parent. Today, that number is one out of every 28.
That includes an astounding one out of every 9 black children, one out of every 28 Latino children, and one out of every 57 white children, according to a 2010 Pew Charitable Trusts report. Despite newsworthy declines in the number of people incarcerated in New York state over the past decade, over a 100,000 children have a parent in a New York state prison or jail. Two-thirds of those parents, and 83 percent of mothers, were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.
Nobody knows just how many children are present during the time of their parent's arrest, because to date, nobody tracks those numbers. But a recent survey by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) found that nearly one-fifth of parents surveyed (18 percent) reported that their child had witnessed their arrest. Of those, all but one had also been handcuffed in front of their child, while 9 percent said their child had witnessed guns drawn.”