Now that Shanesha Taylor is Free, We Must Examine the Bigger Picture

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by Amity Payne

By now you must have heard the story of Shanesha Taylor, the homeless 38-year-old mother who was arrested on March 20 after leaving her children in her car while she went to an interview, was finally released from prison. Taylor, unable to afford daycare, left her six month old baby boy and a two-year old son in in her SUV for more than 45 minutes and has been charged with child abuse. She now faces a long legal battle, and upon her release, child protective services kept custody of her children.

Like many, my initial response was sympathy. Clearly leaving your young children in a car is not advisable or safe, but unable to afford childcare and without a home or a community to support her, anything Taylor could have done in this situation would have been wrong. Then in the aftermath, getting arrested after an interview probably doesn't help your job prospects, no matter how dire they are. Twitter seemed to agree and tweets of #IsupportShanesha were posted en mass in the days following her arrest. Thousands signed the petitions asking Bill Montgomery, County Attorney in Scottsdale, Arizona to drop the charges against Taylor. One concerned citizen, Amanda Bishop, even raised more than $86,000 in donations to support Taylor with legal and living expenses following her release.

“Her desperation to provide for herself and her children and her lack of options led her to take drastic measures in search of employment,” reads one petition on that has more than 9 thousand signatures. “Ms. Taylor needs support & help rather than incarceration and a criminal record that will surely decrease her chances to provide for her children in the future.”

That sentiment is right on the money but it immediately made me look at the situation in a new light. Of course incarceration is not a solution to a problem of systematic failure of black mothers children. In fact, I realized, the solution to this problem doesn't lie after the incident at all. Charity can feel good, but what of cause and effect? While looking to the future of this case is important for Taylor as an individual, looking for the root causes of her predicament reveals less circumstantial, institutionalized issues that are affecting thousands around the country.

According to the 2013 Annual Homelessness Assessment report to Congress there were “222,197 homeless people in families on [any] single night in January 2013.” Focusing on Taylor’s child abuse charges for neglect, the report includes a stat that exemplified the problem: “there were 46,924 unaccompanied homeless children and youth on [any] single night in 2013.”

We know from countless recent stories that Taylor is not alone in facing unemployment and childcare issues, or as a person targeted for incarceration by the state, especially as a woman of color. So, we have to care about all the Shanesha Taylors, not just the one who is making national news. That means looking to raise the minimum wage because studies have shown that even if she had landed the job, she could have simply been among the 45 percent of homeless adults who worked in the last month. That means supporting free, public preschool programs that would give affordable childcare to thousands. That means pushing for a racially equal public school system, for the return of a robust food stamp program, for welfare assistance and other legislative priorities that have recently been debated that can prevent the myriad issues faced by low-income mothers. I want to be clear, not all of these were directly faced by Taylor, but they are part of her story. Actually they are part of our collective story.

Amity Paye is an award winning social justice and civil rights reporter who has written for various publications including Time Out New York, The Root, Regal Magazine and The Youngist. She currently serves as vice president of print for the New York Association of Black Journalists and on the Board of Directors for York College's Journalism Program.

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