A Maryland couple made national news recently after they were charged with child neglect for letting their two children—ages 10 and 6—play in the park alone. Apparently a neighbor spotted the pair on the playground, two blocks away from their home, and called the authorities who showed up at Meitiv’s house and threatened to take their kids away.
According to Danielle Meitiv, the Child Protective Services officer dug up an old Maryland statue that reads: “A person who is charged with the care of a child under the age of 8 years may not allow the child to be locked or confined in a dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle while the person charged is absent and the dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle is out of the sight of the person charged unless the person charged provides a reliable person at least 13 years old to remain with the child to protect the child.”
Apparently, the CPS official felt letting the kids play at a park two blocks away from the Meitiv’s house was the same as being “locked or confined in a dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle.”
The Meitivs have appeared on several national morning shows calling the CPS official’s actions ridiculous and highlighting other cases of local officials cracking down on parents, like the South Carolina mom who was arrested last summer for letting her 9-year-old play in the park while she worked nearby.
While many often bring up their own freewheeling childhood whenever such cases arise, recalling summers spent biking around their local neighborhood or solo walks to school, others criticize parents for letting kids roam around freely, citing safety concerns, crime, and potential predators.
Only problem? Crime rates are nearing historic lows and most kids are preyed upon by someone they know, like a coach or a family friend, rather than a stranger trolling the park.
Still, many concerned citizens feel uneasy when they see children playing at the park alone and call the police. But is this brand of parenting actually safe for brown boys?
I’m not so sure.
I can’t help thinking about Tamir Rice during this latest conversation about free-range parenting.
Tamir was 12 when someone spotted him playing with a toy gun in a park near his home. Like most kids, Tamir pointed the gun at animals, passersby, and trees, pretending to shoot. The person who called 9-11 told the dispatcher the gun was “probably fake” and the “guy” was “sitting on the swings.”
Was he playing cops and robbers? Was he pretending to be a cowboy? Was he taking down the bad guys?
We’ll never know because two seconds after police arrive on the scene, Tamir was gunned down. Two seconds. They shot him before the car even stopped moving.
Tamir’s mother no doubt felt comfortable letting her son play in the park alone. He wasn’t far from home, and both she and Tamir’s big sister were on the scene shortly after his was shot.
I can’t help but wondering how quickly the overreaction to kids alone in public, the fear of young Black boys, and Cleveland’s history of terrible policing collided into one tragic incident.
And I can’t help being afraid that it’ll happen again and again, especially to our boys.
As the parent of a 9-year-old boy who is full of energy, curiosity, and is tall for his age I want to be able to let him play and explore on his own. We live in a safe neighborhood, so crime is the least of my worries. Still, I don’t let him get too far out of my sight for fear I’ll end up like Meitivs, or worse, my son will end up like Tamir.
Parenting isn’t easy, and parenting boys of color can be even more complicated, but we can’t raise our kids in fear.
How do you balance the need to give your boys some freedom with your need to keep them safe?