So, let’s continue our conversation on how we failed A. J. Freund, the five-year-old McHenry, Illinois, boy who was allegedly murdered by his parents.
But before we resume, I want to address some of the reader comments on the first piece.
First, I’m not making excuses for anyone. My fondest wish is for A. J.’s parents to spend the rest of their natural lives in jail. And those “natural lives” likely won’t be very long since their incarcerated compatriots will take a very dim view of child killers.
What I am doing is taking on a “system” that would allow this kind of thing to happen with the clear caveat that, we – you and I – are “the system.”
And yes! I know A. J.’s parents are drug addicts, but that’s a symptom and not a cause. Their cocaine or crack habit certainly made the abuse situation worse, but all that drug does is bring out something that’s already there.
Lastly, did the mother know exactly how to game the system? Sure, she did! That’s why I’m saying we need to change the system. So, let’s examine that prospect a bit further:
3. The safety net that isn’t
My favorite former managing editor aptly noted that DCFS can’t remove a child from a house just because it’s filthy and reeks of dog feces. That needs to change. No child should be forced to life in a rathole and if a house is a rathole it’s a sign of so many other serious issues.
All those 22nd Circuit judges knew A. J. was born with cocaine in his system and his parents were drug addicts, but they refused to permanently remove him from a home the Chicago Tribune calls “a house of horrors.” And as we’ve frequently covered here, the vast majority of circuit judges, the highest paid elected officials in Illinois, work half days at best. All that needs to change.
A. J. told his doctor and an ER doctor he was being abused. The prosecutors knew he was being beaten. A. J.’s relatives knew he was being abused. The McHenry police knew he was being abused. But particularly with DCFS cowering in their typical CYA bunker mentality, none of these well-meaning folks managed to effectively communicate with each other. That needs to change.
And none of what we just discussed requires one cent more than what’s already being spent.
4. But money does make a difference
Again, it gets back to just how willing we are to take care of the “least of our brothers?” We, and especially conservative Republicans, seem to have a real problem with that biblical caveat.
We don’t take care of the mentally ill, so they end up in prison. We don’t take care of our physically disabled brothers and sisters who are damned to lives of desperation. The number of U.S. medical bankruptcies sits somewhere between 500,000 to a million a year. Fifteen million American children live below the poverty line.
Yet, we still somehow manage to call ourselves a “Christian” nation? Right!
But when it comes time to ponying up the cash required to truly care for the least of our brothers and sisters, we’re even worse.
Back in 2014, a massive petition signature effort led by the Association for Individual Development actually got a fascinating referendum question on the ballot. For a mere 0.1 percent properly tax increase, we could’ve raised $13 million a year to better fund disabled causes across Kane County. That pales in comparison to what those Republican school boards do to us on a regular basis.
But no! The usual “Christian” conservative suspects spearheaded a countereffort that doomed that initiative to defeat. Their excuse was that government shouldn’t get involved in charitable endeavors. But it’s OK for those same folks to call for regulating women’s bodies and determining who can marry who.
If you believe in a Christian God, considering the vast number of A. J.s on the planet, what do you think is going to happen when you finally come face-to-face with Her? Remember, I don’t set the standard, I simply apply it.
5. Ayn Rand was full of it
This one really frosts my cookies. What today’s Republicans always fail to tell you is, when Rand contracted cancer from decades of smoking cigarettes, the queen of their neo-conservative movement had no problem signing up for Social Security and Medicare. And she died abandoned by all who really mattered to her.
We are not born equal!
And to believe that we can all pull ourselves up by our bootstraps despite wildly different defining circumstances is just another excuse to justify being petty and selfish. Yes! Teach a man to fish, but the least of our brothers and sisters will always require more care and effort. And then there’s the Bible.
So, go ahead and blame the “system” for A. J. Freund’s horrific death, but be sure you’re looking in the mirror when you do it. Because as I stare all the photographs of the toys, balloons and flowers placed in front of the Freund house, I can’t help but think what might happen if we put the same kind of time, energy and money into a real social safety net.
One can dream.