Commentary: Why Arresting Homeless Mother Shanesha Taylor Was Wrong

Shanesha Taylor

Commentary: Why Arresting Homeless Mother Shanesha Taylor Was Wrong

Shanesha Taylor's case highlights the complexities of poverty and homelessness.

Published March 27, 2014

(Photo: Maricopa County Sheriff Office)

When I first heard that Shanesha Taylor, an African-American single mother of two, was arrested for leaving her children in the car in Arizona, I was taken aback.

Taylor’s story invoked a history of horrific stories of irresponsible parents who left their babies in the car while they went to the bar or shopping, and their kids dying from heat stroke. But with this case, I had to check my middle-class privilege because it is extremely different.

Taylor was homeless and the reason that she left her children in her Dodge Durango that “hot” afternoon was because she had a job interview. During her interview, which lasted 45 minutes, a stranger saw that her children were in an unattended car with the windows down and called the police. Even though her children weren’t hurt, Taylor was still arrested, charged with two counts of child abuse and will most likely stay in jail until her court date. 

Even Scottsdale Police Sergeant Mark Clark was conflicted with this case, telling the press, “[Taylor] was upset. This is a sad situation all around. She said she was homeless. She needed the job. Obviously, not getting the job. So it’s just a sad situation.”

Now, it’s a given that leaving her kids in a car isn’t a reasonable thing to do. But Taylor isn’t living under reasonable circumstances.

She was living out of her car, so there wasn’t a house to leave her kids in. She doesn’t have a partner or a family member to watch her kids for her and clearly she cannot afford childcare. So what was she supposed to do? Not go to her interview?

In that moment, pulling herself and her family out of poverty — what conservatives often claim poor Blacks have no initiative to do — trumped her children’s safety.

Honestly, what would you have done?

And speaking of conservatives, it’s important to point out that the GOP-ran state of Arizona doesn’t do the best to give support for mothers struggling to make ends meet, Think Progress points out:

In the past four years, [Arizona] has cut 40 percent of its total childcare budget, $81 million, which led to an estimated 33,000 children who would otherwise be eligible for subsidized care to go without it. Between 2012 and 2013, there was a decrease in the number of children served for every single childcare program in the state except for Child Protective Services.

In the end, Taylor, like so many other women in her situation, are "damned if they do and damned if they don’t," trying to survive in a system that thrives on deeming them “welfare queens” and “bad mothers.” 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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Written by Kellee Terrell


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