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Tennessee Police Stopped a Black Couple and Took Their Children

Tennessee Police Stopped a Black Couple and Took Their Children

Tennessee Police Stopped a Black Couple and Took Their Children

Nearly a month ago, a highway patrol officer stopped Bianca Clayborne, Deonte Williams, and their five kids in Manchester, Tennessee. They were on their way from Georgia to Chicago for Clayborne’s uncle’s funeral when they were stopped.

Since that time, about 60 miles outside of Nashville, their lives have been turned upside down. Clayborne and Williams are trying to get custody of their children back from state officials, who they say “took” them because of a small amount of marijuana in the car, according to the Tennessee Lookout.

The separation described by Clayborne and Williams fits into a pattern of US child welfare services separating poor, Black, and Indigenous families because of alleged neglect and abuse. This has made it harder for some families to stay together and easier for others to stay together.

One of the family’s lawyers, Jamaal Boykin, told the Tennessee Lookout, “I just have to believe that if my clients looked different or came from a different background, they would have just been given a ticket and told to keep the drugs away from the kids while they were in this state and sent on their way.”

Dorothy E. Roberts, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote a damning book called Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families – and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World.

In it, she wrote about how the US child welfare system has historically punished poor families, especially Black ones, by accusing them of neglect or not being able to meet their children’s housing, healthcare, and other basic needs.

1 in 10 Black Children Is Taken Away From Their Families

Roberts says that racist stereotypes affect how child welfare workers and policymakers investigate families of color. He found that by the time they are adults, one in ten Black children is taken away from their families and put into foster care.

In an excerpt, she said that by the age of 18, more than half of US Black children would be involved in some kind of child welfare investigation, while less than a third of white children would be.

In the case of Clayborne and Williams, the trooper stopped their car on February 17 because the windows were darkly tinted and they were driving in the left lane without actively passing. The police officer searched their car and found 5 grams of marijuana, which is a misdemeanor. He took Williams into custody and put him in a local jail. Clayborne went after her while her children cried.

While Clayborne waited for Williams to be released on bond, an officer held her down while state officials took care of her five kids, including her four-month-old baby. Since late February, the family has been represented by attorney Courtney Teasley, who said that Clayborne and Williams’ case showed “how government systems that say they are there to protect can use those same protections to oppress.”

Teasley said that Tennessee’s department of children’s services was “abysmal,” and that her clients’ children could now be taken from Georgia and sent “to some school they don’t know about.”

We already know that most of the children who are hurt are Black,” Teasley said. “Bringing attention to this shows what is happening to Black people right now. That leads to mass incarceration and all the problems that come with it, such as generational trauma and the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

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Taking Someone’s Children Based on an Invalid Test is “Egregious,” Said Teasley

The state’s children’s services department finally said that Clayborne and Williams’ children were being abused to get an emergency order to take them away.

Even though a state case worker brought in after the stop “discovered that only the father had been arrested,” the removal still happened, according to the Lookout. Still, the agency got a court order the same day to take the kids away from Clayborne and Williams.

Nearly a week later, at their first hearing in juvenile court, the couple was asked to take drug tests, but the results were mixed.

Williams tested positive for drugs in his urine, but Clayborne did not. Then, rapid hair follicle tests were ordered as a follow-up. Both came back positive for fentanyl and oxycodone. Both of them say they didn’t take those drugs, and a local treatment court administrator told the Lookout that tests like that are usually not allowed as proof.

Teasley said that taking someone’s children based on an invalid test is “egregious.” She asked, “How many people have had this happen to them?”

Tennessee Democrats asked for the couple’s children to be returned. Friday, state senator London Lamar told reporters that the state’s action was “ridiculous” and an “overuse of power.” He also called it “borderline discrimination.”

On Friday, state senator Raumesh Akbari said that state officials “made a very bad decision when they took their children, and it looks like they’ve made the same mistake again.”

Clayborne told the Lookout that she couldn’t believe it when police officers surrounded her for six hours and stopped her from reaching for her baby to nurse it. One of them told her, “Don’t touch him. He’s going to be taken from you.'”

Clayborne said, “I breastfeed, but they didn’t give me anything.” “They just took my kids and ran off.”

Teasley says that the couple has driven back and forth from their home in Georgia to Nashville, where their children are living with a foster family, to see them. Clayborne has struggled with the effects of not being able to breastfeed her baby. She had panic attacks and ended up in the hospital.

“They are on the road all the time now to see the kids and stay with them as long as they can,” Teasley said, adding that the kids cry whenever their parents leave. “It has gotten worse because it looks like they’ll never get their kids back.”

Teasley said that the kids only know one thing: “I want to go home.”

Monday is when the case will be heard.

Teasley also said that she could be punished for talking to the media about the case.

On Friday, she said that the lawyer for Tennessee’s department of children’s services had filed a motion against her “for sanctions and referral for prosecution.” The motion says that Teasley broke rules about keeping information secret, which she denies.

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