In what some say is another example of the American nanny state, a mother was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor for leaving her child alone in a locked car for five minutes on a 50-degree day.
The police issued a warrant for the mom, Kim Brooks, based on a video taken by an anonymous stranger. Her son was 4 at the time, and she said she made the decision because he was on the verge of a temper tantrum and she didn’t want to take a screaming child into the store. She was getting only one item: headphones for the boy to use on a commercial flight that very day.
“For the next four or five seconds, I did what it sometimes seems I’ve been doing every minute of every day since having children, a constant, never-ending risk-benefit analysis,” she wrote in Salon.com. “I noted that it was a mild, overcast, 50-degree day. I noted how close the parking spot was to the front door, and that there were a few other cars nearby.
“I visualized how quickly, unencumbered by a tantrumming 4-year-old, I would be, running into the store, grabbing a pair of child headphones. And then I did something I’d never done before. I left him. I told him I’d be right back. I cracked the windows and child-locked the doors and double-clicked my keys so that the car alarm was set. And then I left him in the car for about five minutes.
“He didn’t die. He wasn’t kidnapped or assaulted or forgotten or dragged across state lines by a carjacker. When I returned to the car, he was still playing his game, smiling, or more likely smirking at having gotten what he wanted from his spineless mama. I tossed the headphones onto the passenger seat and put the keys in the ignition.”
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Brooks didn’t realize that somebody had taken a video of her son alone in the car and sent it to the police. But by the time police arrived, she had already left, unaware of what the stranger had done.
The van belonged to her mother, whom she was visiting. When she got off the plan later that day, she had a voicemail from the police.
Brooks hired an attorney and tried to ignore the incident until, nine months later, police put out a warrant for her arrest and picked her up. Police charged her with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a charge that got her name on a warrant and 100 hours of community service.
She was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor because police could not decide what else to charge her with. There was apparently no provision in state law covering her offense. Brooks’ attorney said the case falls into a legal gray area.
She wanted to plead not guilty, but her attorney encouraged her not to do that.
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“This is going to be handled in juvenile court,” he told her, “and the juvenile courts are notorious for erring on the side of protecting the child.”
Brooks wrote, “I can’t remember if he said it or only implied it, but either way, the warning took root. You don’t want to lose your kids over this. It was the first time the idea had skulked out of the darkest, most anxious corners of my mind. My lawyer and I said we’d talk later. I thought I was going to be sick.”
The ironic part, Brooks said, is that her friends believe she is infatuated with child safety.
“I know that on a 75-degree day, a closed car can become an oven,” she wrote. “I know that a home with an unfenced swimming pool is as dangerous as one with a loaded gun. I know how important it is to install car seats correctly, to adjust and fasten the straps regularly. When my kids were babies I always put them to sleep on their backs, though they hated it. I treated small, chokeable objects like arsenic, put up gates on all our stairways (not the tension-rod kind that can be pushed over, but the kind you bolt into the wall).
“I immunized them against everything immunizable, sliced their hotdogs lengthwise and removed the casing, made sure their plates and cups were BPA free, limited their screen time, slathered them in sunscreen on sunny days. When my more carefree friends say things like, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ I usually have an answer.
Since the incident, Brooks has written about her ordeal and spoken about it on 20/20 and Good Morning America. In Salon, Brooks noted that when she was a little girl, her mother often left her alone in the family station wagon for up to an hour.
“My parents felt the whole case was overblown and that I hadn’t done anything any parent over 50 hadn’t done a hundred times,” she wrote.
Brooks said she will never look at society the same. She also says many of her friends say they’ve done what she did.
“I worry that when my husband and I decide our kids are old enough to walk alone to school, be that in two years or in five, some good samaritan will disapprove and call the police,” she wrote. “I worry what the other parents will think if I hang back on the bench while my kids are playing at the park, reading a book instead of hovering over them. I worry that if I let my son play in the alley with the other kids and don’t follow him down because there are already eight responsible adults standing around, I’ll be thought of as the slacker mom who’s not pulling her own.
“And so I accompany when I probably don’t need to. I supervise and hover and interfere. And at least half of the other parents are probably doing it for exactly the same reason.”
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