Some People Don’t Matter Much
There are people who do not matter much.
That’s a painful truth, starkly at odds with our Jeffersonian creed and national mythology. But it is a truth, nevertheless, one frequently proven in actions if denied in words.
In this country, by dint of race, gender, class or status, some people just don’t seem to matter. Apparently, Tammy Jackson is one of them.
No other conclusion is possible after reading the May 3 letter her public defender, Howard Finkelstein, sent to Broward County, Florida, Sheriff Gregory Tony. In it, he decries the “outrageous and inhumane” treatment accorded his client in a Broward lockup. And if anything, the lawyer is guilty of understatement.
He says Jackson, who has mental illness, went into labor before dawn on April 10 while alone in an isolation cell. He says she cried out for help, but guards did not come to see about her, much less take her to the hospital. Instead, they phoned the jail’s on-call doctor. It took four hours to reach him and even then, he showed no particular urgency, saying he would check on Jackson when he got to work.
But, the letter alleges, he never did. Indeed, no one did. No one gave her anything for pain. No one tried to control the bleeding. She screamed all night long and no one came. Jackson was found in her cell cradling her baby six hours and 54 minutes after she first cried out for help.
And if you wonder how such a thing could happen, don’t. After all, Jackson is a prisoner, charged with possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia, trespassing and sleeping on a public street in a nation still using its criminal justice system to treat a public health crisis. She is indigent enough to need a public defender. She lives with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to what her mother told CNN. And, she is black.
So, how could it happen? How could it not?
Does that strike you as harsh? Does it indict too sharply the high-flown words carved in marble over the courthouse door, those noble sentiments about blind justice and equality before the law?
Maybe you haven’t been paying attention.
After all, under the same system of “justice” that allegedly brutalized Jackson, a man who raped a 14-year-old girl was just set free by a judge in upstate New York, while a judge in Georgia showed equal lenience to a man who raped a teenage girl and imprisoned her in a dog cage.
And the rape kit backlog — the number of rape evidence kits piling up unopened because nobody has bothered to test them — stands north of 150,000 nationwide. And never forget that billionaire Jeffrey Epstein molested dozens — maybe hundreds — of underage girls and got a 13-month sentence in a private wing of the local jail with 12 hours furlough six days a week.
Meantime, Tammy Jackson allegedly gives birth alone in her cell. Internal Affairs is investigating. Maybe heads will roll, but that will not resolve — nor even address — the thing that makes this feel like such an epic betrayal.
After all, this is not Cuba. This is not North Korea. This is not Syria. This is the United States of America. Things like this are not supposed to happen here.
But they do. And they always will until enough of us decide otherwise — and vote otherwise.
For the record, Jackson’s daughter is named Miranda Latrice Nixon. In photos, she has a full head of curly hair and lies sleeping in a blanket. She is precious and beguiling as all newborns are, but don’t be fooled.
This is a little black girl, born to indigence, a ward of the state at one month old. In America, remember, some people just don’t seem to matter. Her mom is one of them.
And she is, too.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.