People all across the nation cried out after learning that Josh Powell blew himself and his two young sons to smithereens in Washington State last Sunday. Powell had long been the primary suspect in the disappearance and suspected murder of his wife, Susan.
The week before, a judge denied Powell custody of his two boys, ages 5 and 7. The boys had been in the care of their maternal grandparents since last fall when Steven Powell, Josh's father, was arrested on child porn charges. Josh and the boys had been living with the senior Powell at the time.
This case had more red flags than a NASCAR race. Before his arrest, Steven Powell told any reporter who would listen that his missing daughter-in-law had a thing for him, a sentiment he returned. He failed to mention that he was secretly videotaping his daughter-in-law in various states of undress. Steven Powell is the poster-face of a delusional pervert.
However, it doesn't take a degree in psychology from Harvard, or even your nearest local community college, to figure out that Josh Powell shared some of his father's proclivities for the perverse. It just takes common sense, something sorely lacking in a society hell-bent on following administrative laws to the detriment of its children's welfare.
It doesn't help to point fingers in this situation, said Dan Abrams, legal consultant for ABC News. "As someone who has been covering this case, I was completely torn apart," he said. In fact, Abrams said everyone involved in this case, from the investigators to the prosecutors to the social worker who dropped off the kids, feels horrible.
I'm sure he's right.
But feeling bad about the reckless death of children isn't good enough. We can and we must do better. Every time a Josh Powell comes along and murders a child, we find ourselves asking what more we could have done.
As it turns out, there is a lot more we ought to be doing. In family courts all over this nation, children are often offered up as fodder as attorneys argue over matters that have nothing whatsoever to do with the welfare of a child, but rather the power issues between warring parties. Josh Powell's attorney undoubtedly pumped his client full of wrong-headed notions about his rights as a father, with little regard to the missing and presumably dead mother in this case.
Rarely does the welfare of children come into play when candidates take to the stage promising tax cuts and new jobs. In fact, the very first item to be slashed in most state budgets is the department overseeing human welfare. Displaced children lack money and the political clout of lobbyists-for-hire crying out on their behalf. Additionally, children have no voice in Congress, where we pay homage to family values in political advertising but very little elsewhere.
Everyone knew Josh Powell was a dangerous man, yet, the law allowed that he had a right to see his children. His boys, however, had no rights to be protected from the man who surely killed their mother.
Those boys didn't want to go see their dad Sunday. They wanted to stay at their grandparents' home, a place where they felt safe and loved and cherished. It was something they likely hadn't felt since they went with their father to dump their mother in a shallow grave in the hinterlands of a wintry Utah.
But the courts and our family laws don't give grandparents much recognition, either, despite the fact that many grandparents are raising grandchildren. According to AARP, more than 2.5 million grandparents are raising their children's children.
Five children a day die in this nation as a result of child abuse. Murdered, usually by a parent like Josh Powell, although significantly more mothers than fathers kill their children.
Feeling bad about that won't change anything.
Nothing is going to change. Parents are going to continue to murder their children in this nation because they can do it and get away with it. Because in this nation, child abuse is epidemic. Because in this nation, we are all about people's rights and not about doing right by our children.
We don't lead the world in very many arenas anymore, but we've got this one covered. Here in America, we have more child maltreatment deaths than any other industrialized country in the world.
How's that for bragging rights?
Author Karen Spears Zacharias is a former Observer editorial writer and columnist. Her latest book is "A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder" (MacAdam/Cage, 2012). She teaches journalism at Central Washington University. She can be reached via Twitter@karenzach.
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