Last month, three of my cousins were murdered by one of their ex-boyfriends/children’s father. It still doesn’t seem like real life. This is some murder porn* stuff.
The day started normally enough for me. I woke up late and my mom said she wanted to talk to me. I remember being really annoyed that we were going to have to have a serious talk right when I woke up. I don’t think I hide it well.
“You heard about the triple murder suicide last night in [town]?”
I feel bad, because my first thought was of my brother M, who lives in that town. So now I’m really scared.
“Well, I think K and B were killed by B’s ex-boyfriend last night and then he shot himself.”
And then I left because K and B are the last names I thought she’d mentioned. But a quick check to facebook showed that their friends had already heard the news and that confirmed it for me. Later on in the day, I would find out the third person who was murdered wasn’t just a friend of theirs, but actually another cousin of ours.
At first I couldn’t believe it. That doesn’t make sense. Why would he kill her? And why he kill the rest? And then why would he kill himself? And what about the baby? (The baby thankfully is ok and is too young to ever remember any of this (hopefully).) So I started digging for details. Turns out the reasons were the increasingly common reasons a noncustodial father kills the mother of his children – child support and because she was moving on.
Now that I could believe it, I was angry. Why is this the solution? Why is it when a relationship doesn’t work out, violence is the next step? What was his plan if the cops didn’t stop him? I actually don’t want to know.
I was only angry for a little while before I became sad. My cousins K and B were young. Both under 30 and both with children. They hadn’t lived life yet. My third cousin, T, was older, and to be sure, I feel sad for her too, but at least she got to live most of her life. I was much closer to K and B than T.
And then the guilt came. I hadn’t seen them since the last funeral we all were at, which was K’s mom’s in April. I had done a terrible job of staying in touch with that side of the family. Even since I had moved back to CT, I only was ever around during times of tragedy. That and I had gone into super hermit mode for most of the first year I was here. Do I have the right to feel devastated over deaths of people I wasn’t close to? I still vacillate between “they’re your feelings it’s ok” and “you don’t have a right to feel this way.”
The only thing I felt I could do now was to help. B’s sister had come into town and was doing most of the funeral preparations. I had to help her; I felt like it was my duty. Some small way to make up for not being around while they were alive. Man, did she put me to work. It was difficult to watch everyone’s coping mechanisms, which ran the gamut from working instead of feeling and feeling so much they wound up in the hospital. It felt good to help, it felt awful to witness the families sorrow increase as they learned more details. The murderer’s very long and disturbing history of domestic violence, my cousins’ last moments, how if the stars had aligned a little differently another cousin could have been involved and if they had aligned another way, it would have been the family matriarch instead.
But then there were good moments. People volunteering food and space for the funeral. A toy drive set up for the kids. Donations of clothes and other things babies need. People coming to share a laugh and good (but really bad for you) food. And although I’m not into Church, I even appreciated the many prayers shared. But the best was the baby, who was just as happy as he always. Hard to feel down when he smiles at you.
We planned a double funeral. We had to find clothes for them to wear. Something that seemed easy enough but quickly turned into a three day project while we worried about what they would wear, would they have liked this if they were alive and still getting something to cover up all the things the family wouldn’t want to see. Because everyone was so emotionally beat down, I wrote the two obituaries.
And then the funeral happened and it was terrible and beautiful. Two white caskets next to each other, surrounded by flowers in their favorite colors, in front of a packed Church in the middle of a snowstorm. People were sobbing. Some had the decency to do it in the bathroom and not on the family who was already barely holding it together. Thankfully, I kept it together through the funeral and the burial. Me, my mom and my brother had to do readings, but again, I felt happy that I could do something. In the end, K was buried next to her mother and B was married next to her. Best friends to the end.
We worried if there going to be conflict within the family since T was just visiting and because she had died trying to help her cousins here? But of course there wasn’t, because this is family. My mom married into the family when I was little and I used to still be around even after her divorce. K and her brother used to always be at my house and I have many found memories of us terrorizing my step-father with our antics (and bad and much too loud singing). The one thing about that family that I always admired is that they always stood together, even when one was acting a complete fool. ”The Mills!” I would say and laugh. And so, when I learned that my cousins died because they were protecting one another, I was not surprised. It seemed so fitting that this tight knit family would literally die for one another. I could not be mad at that. I don’t think they would be mad either. I don’t think they would have even thought they had a choice. And though I am still really sad and mad and guilt-ridden, I take small comfort in family and the things we do for each other.
*murder porn is not actual porn. It’s those murder shows like Snapped, Fatal Encounters, anything on Investigation Discovery. Basically real life Law & Order.
The title alone makes me cringe: Childless man freed after serving time for child support violations.
Yeah read that again, this dude has no kids and has gone to jail, no once, but TWICE over child support violations. Basically what happened was dude was with some chick, she got pregnant and told him it was his. They break up shortly thereafter. She goes after child support (or if she was on public assistance, the state went after child support). Like many low-income men, he couldn’t keep up with the child support payments and the state threw his butt in jail (that law is so dumb, but that’s another post). Then he got out, got a job and couldn’t pay again and then went to jail again. 13 years later he hears whispers that he might not be the father and decided to take a DNA test. So eventually Mr. Haltey take 2 paternity tests and it’s concluded that the child is not his. It’s good in the hood right? No, Mr. Hatley still has to pay his back child support even through the child isn’t his. Why? Because he signed a consent agreement to pay child support back when he thought the child was his. The court is holding him to that, so he has to pay more than $16,000 in back child support.
How could this happen? It’s actually really easy. All you really need to do to establish paternity is pay a small fee to get your name on a birth certificate. I’m not aware that you actually need to have a DNA test to do this. So if you’re messing around and aren’t sure where your seeds are growing, you too could get caught up.
My biggest problem with the article is that it assumers that if you’re aren’t paying child support you’re a deadbeat dad. I hang around a lot of fatherhood researchers, and they call it something else: dead broke. I think most men would gladly pay child support if they were earning a decent salary. I was watching this documentary and this man said by the time they took child support out of his pay check, he had $0.16 left. You just can’t live off of that. And even though it is selfish, to want to put food in your mouth over child’s, I get it.
All in all, I’m glad Mr. Hatley is out of jail but let this be a cautionary tale. Fellas, be aware of what’s going on. If you don’t think you can afford 18 years of child support payments, or just don’t want to pay them, wrap it up and call it a day. Ladies, when telling men that the child is theirs, please be sure you actually know who the father is. Fellas, if you aren’t sure they child is yours, please get a DNA test. Yes, I will still call you a dick for putting a pregnant woman through the drama that is men figuring out who the father is, we will all be happy in the end when we know who the actual father is. As you can see, if you make a mistake with this, you’re stuck with the consequences.
One of the projects the research center I’m employed at is working on the the evaluation of a noncustodial parent earned income tax credit in New York City. The way it works now, custodial parents (read: mothers) get a tax credit and noncustodial parents (read: fathers) don’t.
This experimental tax credit is geared towards low-income black fathers with child support orders. The goal is to incentivize paying child support, and is really a round about way of incentivizing legit work. Sounds good in principle but it’s really a mess. The cap to get the tax credit is something crazy small that you could only make if you didn’t work all year and if you don’t work all year, how can you be current on your child support. whomp.
Anyway the blow came because this great nation can’t get all it’s systems to work together and basically it was decided this tax credit could never go federal because the child support system is run by the states not the federal government and they didn’t think they’d be able to get both systems to work together to get the credit out to the men.
Another program for low-income, low-education, predominately men of color bites the dust.
Yesterday the Boston Globe had an interesting article on the absence of men, in particular Black men, in antipoverty policy. Children have always been considered “deserving poor” because they are largely helpless, and women have long been considered deserving because their plight was usually the result of widowdom. For the most part, Americans have taken care of the “deserving poor” not necessarily through the best means available (read: poorhouses) but nonetheless, the intention was to create a better living situation, and hopefully better life chances, for those in social programs.
The icon of the “undeserving poor,” by contrast, has always been the able-bodied man. Although some programs in the New Deal and the War on Poverty provided them with jobs and training, social welfare policy has otherwise largely ignored men. One practical reason is that as a rule, aid to children – the paragons of vulnerability – has been channeled through mothers. Equally potent, though, is the longstanding cultural belief that men, barring economic disasters, should be able to take care of themselves. Today, especially, low-income men have an image problem. Many are convicts and “deadbeat dads,” widely seen as deserving blame, not bailouts.
But according to a new wave of thinking, the next front in the fight against poverty should consist of policies aimed at these very individuals. Experts say that poor men, caught in profound economic and social changes, now number among society’s most vulnerable members. The economy has shifted its weight to the service sector, shedding the manufacturing jobs that once offered low-skilled men the promise of good wages to support their families. Alarming percentages of poor men – disproportionately African-Americans – pass through the criminal justice system, further undercutting their employability. And child support laws have driven them deep into debt.
I must admit, this is probably the first time I’ve seen mainstream media consider these men vulnerable. Let’s just take a little look at the many systems that keep Black men in poverty.
- * education – If CNN didn’t beat this into the ground, the high school drop out rate for African Americans is now up to 50%. We all know that not obtaining a college degree, let alone a high school degree, significantly decreases one’s lifetime earnings.
- * incarceration – you send a Black man to jail and his likelihood of finding employment to sustain him, let alone and his family, drops at an incredible rate.
- * child support - I’m not advocating that men don’t pay, but simple changes will make it much easier for men to pay. For example, if we stop considering incarceration “voluntary unemployment” and stop adding onto the principal while men are in jail, this would make their arrears repayment much easier upon their release. Or instead of taking out the entire amount of arrears from a man’s paycheck (and leaving with him with nothing in that paycheck), we should leave enough money for men to support themselves.
- * lack of low skill labor – this has been a problem since the 1970′s and employment is becoming more technical and analytical. Low education and low skill men are going to continue to have a hard time finding a job that provide liveable wages and any sort of benefits. That said, low skill jobs are not going to return. We need to educate these men and provide them with the skills to compete in today’s workforce.
The article points to many initiatives to help these men – most through financial incentives. That makes sense, a major reason men turn to crime is financial, however, this has been met with resistance.
In certain quarters, these ideas have generated controversy. Conservative critics oppose the expenditures, while others, especially feminists, fear that limited antipoverty funding could be diverted from poor women, who are by and large still struggling to raise the kids. From this perspective, the question is, why should men who have shirked their obligations be rewarded with assistance?
“If men were taking responsibility for their children, they would be receiving benefits,” says Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women.
These objections underscore one of the central challenges of any strategy designed to benefit poor men. Although policy analysts describe them as among the most vulnerable citizens in contemporary America, they are commonly viewed as more menacing than helpless. Many of them have broken laws and are severely alienated from mainstream society. The new proposals raise the question: How can you justify devoting scarce resources to helping people who most Americans see as culpable for many of their own – and society’s – problems?
And there’s the problem. Even though they need a lot of help, men are not considered deserving. And in some cases, ok a lot of cases, men are directly responsible for their current situation. I get frustrated when I see men refuse to acknowledge their role in their predicament and instead blame the system or “the man.” Yes, there are systems at work against you but you dropped at of high school, committed a crime, etc., etc. I question the effectiveness of a program if a man cannot accept the role his decisions have made on his situation, and also how those decisions affect others – his children, his babymama, his family, and his community.
And before you get all, she’s blaming the victim on me, I do understand the frustration of feminists and conservatives. Yes these man make poor decisions, but we need to give second chances. One dumb decision a man makes when he’s in his teens or early twenties really should not haunt and hinder him for the rest of his life. We need to recognize that if we don’t help these men the problem will get worse.
My thought is this, if you help Black children while they are the “deserving” you won’t need to help them when they are the Black men, and therefore “undeserving.” Seems simple enough to me.
I uploaded the article to my server in case it’s down on the Boston Globe site – you can read it here.