KHOU tv in Houston reported the story of Manny Hurd, an instructor at the Jenks [Oklahoma] Dance Academy and his attempt to fulfill the dream of his 13 year old student's wish to dance with Chachi Gonzales at Planet Funk Academy in Houston. Her parents flew her to Houston where Manny had brought her dancing partner, 22 year old Josiah, and the three spent three days dancing with Chachi and then . . .
Police found the trio sleeping in Manny's car in front of a convenience store at three o'clock in the morning. Manny says he had pulled in to use his phone's GPS to find a hotel when he, too, fell asleep. When Houston PD woke them up, Manny showed them a notarized letter from the girl's parents, complete with emergency contact information and, we are told, language giving him the powers of a "full guardianship."
The police detained Manny, Josiah and Landry. All three were transported in handcuffs -- Manny and Josiah to the police station and Landry to child services. Sometime the next day, after whatever investigations they felt appropriate, the police sent all three on their way.
And then the blogosphere erupted. "RACIST Houston Cops Take White Girl from Her Black Legal Guardians." Even ABC News reported that "Teen Dancer Taken From Legal Guardian Alleges Racial Profiling."
Now Manny and Landry and Landry's mom all want apologies. I want to commend the Houston Police for a job well done.
Like most who do their shopping here, I am keenly aware of the destructiveness of racial profiling. I wore my hoodie to show my support of Travon's family. I oppose Mayor Blumberg's stop and frisk policy.
But I am also aware that slavery has not been ended in the United States and that the FBI estimates that more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking suffer as endentured domestic workers, sweat shop workers, and, most of all, sex workers who have little hope of fully recovering in the unlikely event they are rescued, but mostly die before age 30 of disease, drug overdose, suicide and violence.
So when the Houston PD found this trio sleeping together in a car with out-of-state-plates outside a convenience store / gas station at 3:00am, they questioned them and got a wildly improbable story. Her mother, they said, had made 29 year old Manny the girl's "full guardian" and sent her a thousand miles away to go dance with a superstar. Manny told the press that he showed them a notarized letter from her mom as proof. The police responded by detaining everyone. The 29 and 22 year old males went to the police station while the 13 year old girl went to child services. Everyone went wearing handcuffs. Phone calls were made. Landry's story stayed the same even when the men were in another part of town with the police. Mom told them that really was what she wanted to happen, and the trio departed for Tulsa the next day.
NOT HER LEGAL GUARDIANS
Neither Texas, nor Oklahoma, (or any other state I have found) have any provision for creating guardianships by notarized letter. Which is a darned good thing -- a legal guardian can do anything a parent can do -- authorize elective surgery, mental health commitment, tattoos, piercings, implants, amputations, nude photography and underage marriage.
Both Oklahoma and Texas do impose upon a person who has undertaken to supervise children the duties of "in loco parentis," which requires such person to provide food, shelter, supervision and discipline, and to provide for the child's safety. Such a person has the duty to approve emergency medical care. It isn't a slip of paper that does that, it is state law.
So, although Mr Hurd claimed to be a "full guardian" of his 13 year old charge, what he really was was a caregiver. Babysitter? Chaperone? Call it what you want; he was entrusted with this child and he had a obligation to provide her with food, water, a safe environment, and shelter.
How did he do? ABC News reports were that they pulled into the convenience store parking lot where they were found sleeping. Manny says he pulled in to use his GPS to find a hotel. He words it differently in different interviews, sometimes saying he was looking for a route to "the hotel" and sometimes he says he was trying to find "a hotel." I haven't found any reporting at all that says what time it was when he pulled in.
The reason it makes a difference to me is that it was the duty of some adult to plan this trip so that they did not end up sleeping at a gas station. If they had been there three days, then they must have stayed somewhere the night before. They were still in Houston; why didn't they stay there and get going in the morning? Did they have reservations for a hotel in Southern Texas? Why didn't that get mentioned to the police and/or the media?
And just what WAS the plan? Did they have two rooms booked? Were they going to have a 13 year old girl spend the night by herself in a hotel room she arrived at at 3:00am? Was she going to be sleeping in the room with two adult me she was not related to? Had the hotel agreed to rent on that basis? Although some hotels might, it is entirely likely that a hotel would refuse either plan. Public accommodations laws do not require anybody in any state to allow that arrangement. Is that what happened? Did they have reservations for a hotel that said "no" when they proposed either approach?
I SUBMIT THAT THIS WAS NEGLIGENCE - AT BEST
Most of my critics in the chatrooms on Facebook and elsewhere say that the Houston PD and I are guilty of racial profiling. The officers have been reported to have said that they took them into custody because it was two black men and a white girl. Viewed skeptically, the implication is that the white cops believed that no black men can be trusted to keep their hands off a white girl, so the mother must have been either a crack whore who sold her daughter for drugs or a complete lunatic.
And I certainly take note of the fact that the two adults are black and the child was white. For me, it is a huge clue that we are very unlikely to be dealing with blood relatives. Something is highly unusual here that bears further investigation.
Now, in part, that is because I've heard this story before. I have heard heartbreaking tales of young girls lured far away from home with promises of show business, only to discover that they are the entertainment, not the entertainers. If I were going to speculate, I'd guess that there were 10,000 human trafficking situations in which two twenty-something men have a 13 year old girl of a different race in a car with them at 3:00am -- 10,000 of those for ever one case in which a responsible mother signed her daughter up for such care.
Does it matter to me that they guys are black and the girl white? Would I feel differently if the guys were Latino and the girl Japanese? Or Nordic looking white guys and a Persian girl?
I hope not. I'd like to think I as good as that, but I've fallen short of my aspirations before. But, to tell you the truth, I might hope the police would do some serious intervention if it was a Father, his younger brother, and the daughter he conceived while he was in high school.
Because this borders on child abuse, regardless of the relationship of the trio. This guy did not provide safe shelter for his ward, even if it had been his daughter and the 22 year old had been her uncle. I understand homelessness. I know there are people who feel that they have no better choice than sleeping in their car. But most cities disagree; most provide emergency shelter because it is not safe -- particularly for a 'tween female.
The situation doesn't improve much if his plan had been to spend the third day dancing until the wee hours of the morning and then try to drive 13 hours to Tulsa, only to pull over when he found that he was not Superman and could not stay awake that long. I have heard no safe plan here. Her parents paid for her plane ticket and he had that phone number. I have to believe that with mom on the line, a hotel could have been found and accommodations made.
To put her in a car at 3:00am was unsafe. To put her asleep with two sleeping caregivers in a car at a gas station in Houston is, IMHO, at least negligence and very close to reckless child abuse.
HOW TO DO IT BETTER?
There have been a lot of comments like "so, should we stop traveling sports and put all of the coaches in jail?" Or "I took my ten year old grandson to Disneyworld last year; should I be hauled away in handcuffs?"
Obviously not. My kids did all of that. My Aunt and I drove by ourselves to Kansas City when I was 16. But we didn't sleep in the parking lot.
Step 1: go in a group, if you can. With adults of the same gender as the kids. Parents of some of the kids, if possible.
Step 2: Have a plan for the night by 6:00pm. Ideally, reserve rooms for the whole trip before you leave, making sure that if you have special situations, you run that by the hotel before you make the booking.
Step 3: Plan the supervision. Part of the deal for me, at least, was that Manny described an impossibility. I happen to be an attorney and I know that appointing a "full guardian" requires you to demonstrate the inability of the biological parents to fulfill their duties in the particular circumstances and to demonstrate that the proposed guardian can discharge the duties in the best interests of the child, almost always with continued court supervision. So, when Manny announced that he had a notarized letter from the parents appointing him a "full guardian," he has no idea what he's talking about. Maybe he's lying. Maybe they sat around the kitchen table and dreamed up this arrangement, but given that we're sleeping in a parking lot at 3:00am, it seemed really unlikely that this was in the best interests of the child.
So it would have been a really good idea if the Jenks Dance Academy had thought this through, put the agreement on its letterhead, put the itinerary on its letterhead, and made certain that everybody understood what was supposed to happen, what to do if something changed, and what to do if there was an emergency.
Step 4: ask for help. Hillary Clinton's book was called "It Takes a Villiage." It does. It really does. And, by and large, everybody knows that. If Manny had called the police and told them the situation, they would have helped. If he told them this story and gave them the name of the hotel where he had reservations, they'd have helped. If he had told him that because of his bizarre sleeping plan, the hotel where he made a reservation wouldn't rent to him, they'd have helped.
If he was so sure that the Houston PD was a bunch of racist profilers who would have put any black man with a white girl in his car in jail, he could have called a Catholic Church; they'd have helped. People will help.
SO I SUPPORT THE COPS
So I'm glad the Houston PD did what they did. Thousands of girls are forced into prostitution each year. Girls from skid row and girls from Park Avenue.
Handcuffs? Many police departments won't let anybody ride in the back seat except when wearing handcuffs. The cops in the front seat cannot see the back seat passenger. No pat down is perfect. Hope you're not offended, but the safety of the police officers is pretty important to me, so we have rules.
Arrested? I don't know that they WERE arrested. The Supreme Court says there is something called "detention" where, for safety or investigation or maybe some other things, the police can inconvenience you for a little while with out charging you with anything. If the investigation had shown that this girl was a runaway lured to Houston with the promise of dancing with a star, but in fact, destined for a brothel in Sao Paulo, I imagine they would want to know where Manny was when they found out. If the investigation disclosed that all three of them were destined for brothels in Sao Paulo, I imagine they would want to save the boys as well as the girl. Without taking a side on whether I think "detention" is a proper Constitutional choice, it is, in fact, the law of the land.
A night with Child Services? Brilliant!
Landry slept by herself in a bed that night.
And the next morning, she knew that if she was afraid of Manny or Josiah, they could have gotten her back to mom without any possibility of them intervening. And if she had a story to tell about why it was better to be in Houston with Manny than at home with "Uncle Boyfriend," she could tell it. She was physically separated from any tormentor who could have made her choose to be in that absurd situation. On the other hand, if she was such a silly and immature 13 year old, like all 13 year olds are from time to time, she could have said that -- and apparently did say that -- when the thought was not accompanied by any prying eyes.
But whatever. The situation the Houston PD found was dangerous. And now it's not. Nobody was hurt, although someone might well have been hurt. And with this prologue, having everybody safe in their own beds a week later was was a pretty good result.
Bravo, Houston PD.