, Contributing Writer
Maleah Davis could be a poster child for the struggle happening within the Black family in America. The precious four-year-old has captured the hearts and minds of the Houston community as she has been missing since May 4. She is presumed to be dead. The Houston Police Department has charged the mother’s boyfriend, 26-year-old Derion Vence, in connection with the child’s disappearance.
After police found traces of blood evidence linked to Maleah in a bathroom and hallway of the apartment he shared with Brittany Bowens and her daughter Maleah, Mr. Vence was charged with tampering with evidence of a human corpse. According to police, spots where blood had been cleaned up were also found.
Her remains have not been recovered.
As balloons in her memory go up and events in her honor are organized, what is not reported is the conundrum Black people, in particular, and families often find themselves in. Nothing in America works fully for their benefit.
Then her case, in some ways, seemed overshadowed as a police officer shot a Black woman to death May 13 in Baytown, Texas, about 25 miles east of Houston. Pamela Turner, who was unarmed and who family members say was non-violent, was killed as an officer tried to arrest her.
Student Minister Abdul Haleem Muhammad, the Houston-based Southwestern regional representative for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, said in a telephone interview, “There are too many unanswered questions in this case. There is suspicion not only on the boyfriend but also the mother in terms of what happened to little Maleah. Most importantly, the bigger picture for us is that we must find a way to protect our children and our women.”“According to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and what he taught, you do not leave your daughter home alone with your husband or boyfriend,” he said. “The case is disheartening, and there is a whole lot of stuff going on behind the scenes. Take, for instance, the role of Child Protective Services (CPS) in the family. They have a history of taking our children at a higher rate for lesser reasons. Then on the flip side, if the system fails, we are left pointing the finger. We can’t have it both ways. Really, separation is the answer.” “None of these systems work for us–criminal justice, child welfare, medical system, educational system–nothing is working for us as a people. At the forefront is the destruction of our families. Our families are not strong. They are not strong for any number of reasons. Now anything goes. We have accepted the norms and customs of our oppressors and suffered consequences as a result. If their families are dysfunctional, you can bet ours are double theirs. Violence against children only follows this pattern,” the astute student minister concluded. In terms of violence against Black children, what he said was exactly correct. A study published in the JAMA Pediatrics found: “ ‘In the United States, many disparities that occur … are examples of how the history of racism can lead to disparate outcomes among groups,’ Hedwig Lee says, pointing out that overwhelmed parents of color are much less likely to have access to support such as comprehensive health care, lactation consultants, therapists, nannies, and the like.” “When we think of racial disparities, it’s not necessarily bias among CPS, but more about the large problems of social disparities. In many cases, parents are overwhelmed and not receiving enough support. That’s a social and economic problem,” Ms. Lee, one of the study’s authors, states. In other words, Black folk remain behind the eight ball, hamstrung like a camel in the desert. The National Center for the Victims of Crime found, compared with other segments of the population, victimization rates for Black children and youth are even higher. Evidence suggests that Black youth ages 12 to 19 are victims of violent crimes at significantly higher rates than their White peers. Black youth are three times more likely to be victims of reported child abuse or neglect, three times more likely to be victims of robbery, and five times more likely to be victims of homicide.
Murder is the leading cause of death among Black youth ages 15 to 24. The Black Child Legacy Campaign astonishingly reports in California child abuse and neglect homicides were the third highest disproportionate cause of death from 1990-2009: “30 percent of decedents were African American children but only comprised 11 percent of the child population.” Their study also looked at child abuse and neglect homicide (a homicide where the perpetrator is the primary caregiver; a death in which a child is killed, either directly, or indirectly, by his/her caregiver). Seventy-seven percent of the child abuse and neglect homicides of Black children occurred in children 0 to 5 years of age. Sixty-one percent of the perpetrators of Black victims of child abuse and neglect homicides were the biological parents. This includes the mother or father acting alone, or both parents acting together.
Philadelphia child welfare social worker Lakesha Reel, who has closely followed Maleah’s case on social media, said the case narrative is not uncommon. “In terms of poor CPS intervention, faulty interviews are usually at the core,” she noted.
Ms. Reel pointed out there are abuse indicators such as bodily injury with family stress or crisis caused by domestic violence, relationship turmoil, separation, or divorce.
In Maleah’s case, she was spot-on. What is known, according to reports, is the child was left in the care of her mother’s paramour, Mr. Vence, while she attended a funeral out of town. In a shifting story, he claimed he was attacked while driving to the airport to pick up Ms. Bowens and Maleah was taken. The child was last seen entering her apartment complex on April 30 with Mr. Vence. According to Houston community activist Quanell X, Ms. Bowens recently broke off her engagement with Mr. Vence after she allegedly discovered he sent sexually explicit images of himself to another man. “She told him that she was giving back his ring and that she was not going to marry him,” Quanell X said. In an interview with The Final Call, he said Mr. Vence had been abusive toward the child in the past and threatened the mother. All three of Ms. Bowens’ children were involved with Child Protective Services, having been removed from the home in 2018. Maleah had multiple brain surgeries for an unexplained injury and she and her two brothers were removed from their residence by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as a consequence. They were returned in February, authorities told CNN. Quanell X said based on conversations with the mother, there was physical abuse against Maleah at the hands of the paramour that was covered up.
“The mother had a binding obligation to protect her daughter, and she failed. Actually, the child had been removed twice from her care. The twist here is the child returned because CPS couldn’t determine who committed the abuse the mother or boyfriend. It was a huge mistake by the agency in terms of child safety,” Quanell X said.
Further exacerbating the problem, according to Quanell X, are claims the boyfriend may have also been molesting Maleah. As for the involvement of Child Protective Services, Quanell said minimal services were provided for the family. “What little services were offered, Mr. Vence never completed any. CPS is directly to blame for the death of young Maleah. The mother also has to live with the painful truth that she should have done a much better job of getting away from that man or allowing him to be in a private setting around that child,” Quanell X asserted. Ms. Reel concluded the same, saying mothers need to be more vigilant in protecting their children. “Leaving children in the care of boyfriends and other unreliable caregivers is all too common in the ‘hood and dangerous,” she said.