11 Jun 2008

Five pregnant children is no small deal

Seattle Post-Intelligencer - June 10, 2008

by John Young | Waco Tribune-Herald
WACO, Texas -- Parents of the polygamist sect in Eldorado, Texas, have their children back, but they aren't all in the clear. Until the DNA speaks, it's not clear who's a parent and who, as a child victim, became a parent.
Criminal charges may spring from what remains in play after the Texas Supreme Court ruled Child Protective Services overreacted when it took 440 FLDS children into custody.
If this was a certifiable overreach, as two appellate courts say, I gladly vote for this over the chain of reactions in 1993 which left charred corpses on a blackened patch of prairie outside Waco. The initial concerns in that debacle were the same.
In that case, to prosecute something that started out as a child abuse case, officials chose federal SWAT teams in cattle trailers over caseworkers and deputies.
The feds opted for flash-bang grenades over diplomacy. They chose a big production over a quiet arrest of David Koresh away from the compound on the many occasions in Waco when he was being a guitar-loving messiah about town.
In the resulting shoot-out, 51-day standoff and horrific end by fire, 85 people died.
The DNA ultimately would speak to crimes that demanded someone's attention. Koresh fathered 13 children who died in the fire. Some were the result of his bedding minors.
Throughout those events, in which Waco became the media center of the universe, I got to sample a bizarre night-and-day divide of letters to the editor from two groups of outraged people.
On the one hand were the locals who wrote, "Support law enforcement." On the other hand were faxes from afar (before most of us were e-mailing) denouncing law enforcement as "jackbooted Nazi thugs."
In either case, the observers were blind to the culpability of those with whom their sympathies lay. Both the feds and the Branch Davidians were egregiously, horrifically at fault.
Now, with the case in Eldorado, I've seen mass e-mailed letters to newspapers like ours flinging charges at Texas for Gestapo tactics and for pursuing "fictional abuse." We've also heard from a "polygamy rights" group.
Breathe deeply. The state's claims -- that 31 teenage girls were impregnated -- were way off. It turns out that all but five were legal adults.
This may sound to you like an exoneration of the FLDS. It may also bring to one's mind the phrase "a little bit pregnant." Five pregnant children is no small deal.
Sect members say all was consensual. Texas law says, "If she's a minor, there's no such thing."
FLDS members now say they no longer will countenance marriages involving minors, a confession of something forbidden in the first place. Once again, feel free to denounce CPS for overreaching and exaggerating. I vote for child advocates who move their feet when clear suspicions present themselves.
Due process has prevailed thus far in this child abuse investigation. It had no such opportunity in 1993. The investigation continues in Eldorado, as it should. In the incident that became known as "Waco," all the truth that was left about the crimes that first alerted investigators was in the DNA.
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