The reactions to last week’s law enforcement action that resulted in the arrest of 32 individuals have been generally positive. Many readers talked about how proud they were of our local police and sheriff’s deputies who participated in the sweep, alongside officials from various state and federal agencies. What the readers each hoped was that the many arrests would make a difference to reduce the local drug problem. The sweep targeted suspects from three families, who investigators believe form a tight-knit drug ring.
Drugs create victims on many, many levels. There are the drug users who destroy their bodies and futures in the process of feeding their addictions. There are the neighbors and the community members who fall victim to crimes committed as users try to pay for their addictions. Countless friends and adult family members watch their loved ones changed into strangers. Often overlooked, though, are the children of drug users and sellers, who are powerless to combat their parents’ lifestyle brought on by drugs.
In last Thursday’s sweep, 12 children were placed in temporary custody of Child Protective Services (CPS) before more permanent arrangements could be made. Some of those children (one was young as 5 weeks old) were in the homes as law enforcement officials crashed through the door and arrested the adults. Children who no doubt have grown terrified of strangers — much like their paranoid, drug-abusing parents — found themselves caught up in a whirlwind of running, shouting, weapons, shoving, fighting and then finally their parents being led off in restraints. That scenario would be bad enough for an adult to witness, especially when in the back of his or her mind they knew such a scene might occur. But for the children who know only that a loved one, someone they rely on for food and shelter (such as that may be), is being taken away by force, the experience would have to be terrifying.
An article originally published in the Infant Mental Health Journal says that about 4 million children a year are exposed to traumatic events, and every one of those events will leave a lasting impact on those children. There are different types of events, and the long-term reaction to those will be different, the article said. The most damaging, however, is unexpected, man-made violence. Those children develop a great risk for “profound emotional, behavioral, physiological, cognitive and social problems,” the 1995 article stated. That’s the type of trauma that the 12 local children experienced last week.
What that means is that the youngest victims of Brownwood’s drug situation not only suffered through a terrifying afternoon during the arrests, but also face a lifelong future of dealing with that fateful day. Although many of the 12 children probably now find themselves in safer, cleaner environments today than they did a week ago, they will be touched by what they saw happen to their parents. That’s not the children’s fault and it’s not law enforcement’s fault. The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the parents who force their children to live in that kind of an environment.
In 2000, Alan Diaz won a Pulitzer Prize for a photo he took during the raid when Border Patrol agents, who were armed with machine guns and wearing body armor, broke into a relative’s home to take custody of Elian Gonzalez. Gonzalez, you may remember, had escaped Cuba for America with his mother, who died on the journey. In the photo, the 7-year-old looks terrified as one of the agents, his machine gun pointed at the boy, takes Elian from the arms of a relative. Gonzalez was returned to Cuba because of the policies of the two nations’ governments, not because of anything he did.
Images like that one, and stories like last week’s, go hand-in-hand in that they illustrate the suffering the youngest victims endure at the hands of adults. Too often children are put into positions over which they have no control. And in so doing, we expose them to situations that will have a profound and lasting effect on them the rest of their lives. That’s a heck of a Christmas present.
Bill Crist is associate publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.