Real life can be more cruel than books.
It’s a hard truth.
Us writers often hear from editors, “Can you make the villain more understandable?”
We often hear, “Nobody would do something so horrible in real life.”
But sometimes villains aren’t understandable. Sometimes real life is full of horrors and cages. And it’s often only those of us who get to live safe lives, bubbled lives, who have problems understanding that such evil exists.
Sometimes that evil is a person.
Sometimes that evil is a policy.
Sometimes that evil is both.
As a writer for kids and young adults, I get to know how brilliant and passionate and beautiful kids and teens are. As a writer for kids and young adults, I have a responsibility to speak for them when they can’t speak for themselves, but also to stand aside when they demand a place to speak their own truths.
I posted this on my Facebook yesterday because Gabby the Dog is wise and we have good conversations.
Me: Gabby, when you meet people who are little or fragile or sick and they want to pet you, it’s like… Well, it’s like you become even more gentle and loving. Like the more fragile the people are, the kinder you become.
Gabby: Of course.
Gabby: Doesn’t everyone always act like that? You have to be more gentle with the people who need gentleness.
Me: No. People are not always like that.
Gabby: They should be.
Why This Matters
On April 6, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called for a “zero-tolerance policy for criminal illegal entry.” Since then, most numbers show that the United States government took over 2,000 kids from their parents and/or legal guardians at the country’s border.
Kids are detained. They are no longer free.
Kids are separated from their parents. They have lost the people they know.
What is evil?
Evil is the opposite of good. This policy is not good. Hurting kids, detaining kids, pulling them away from their loved ones? None of it is good.
“This is a spectacularly cruel policy, where frightened children are being ripped from their parent’s arms and taken to overflowing detention centres, which are effectively cages. This is nothing short of torture. The severe mental suffering that officials have intentionally inflicted on these families for coercive purposes, means that these acts meet the definitions of torture under both US and international law,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director.
On a local social media page, a man I know decried the fact that the kids are ‘not in cages,’ and said all the families that were separated were separated because they had acted illegally.
According to Amnesty’s website, “Amnesty International recently interviewed 17 asylum-seeking parents who were forcibly separated from their children, and all but three of them had entered the USA legally to request asylum.”
Of those interviewed, 14 out of 17 parents interviewed had entered legally.
“The claims of the Trump administration ring hollow. This cruel and unnecessary practice is being inflicted not only on families crossing irregularly, but also on those seeking protection at ports of entry. The majority of these families fled to the US to seek international protection from persecution and targeted violence in the Northern Triangle, where their governments are unwilling or unable to protect them,” said Guevara-Rosas.
This isn’t new, the man on social media said. The man I know. It started before, he said. Nobody cared before. If it even exists now, he said.
Back in January, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said, “We’re looking at a variety of ways to enforce our laws to discourage parents from bringing their children here.”
Former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, current chief of staff, talked about this separation policy back in early 2017.
It exists. It is evil.
And people are caring now because of multiple reasons, but one of the main reasons is that the policy (not the law) shifted, and another main reason is that people know about it now.
Sometimes it feels impossible to battle evil policies, systemic racism, sexism, bigotry. Sometimes it feels impossible to even battle the evil within our own selves.
Good people, mediocre people, dogs, whatever. What we need to do is support the work of the people actively exposing evil and who are actively working against it. We need to amplify the voices of the children and parents who are suffering. We need to remember what it is that we as people stand for.
What do you stand for?
DO GOOD WEDNESDAY
Families Belong Together “opposes the cruel, inhumane and unjustified separation of children from their parents along the U.S. border with Mexico and at other ports of entry into the U.S. We protest the conditions in which these children are kept. We protest the irreversible trauma that has already been perpetrated on these children and their parents for the crime of seeking a better life.”
Check out its website here and find out what you can do to help.
The Poor People’s Campaign is “a national call for moral revival” in our country. The campaign follows in the path of Martin Luther King Jr., and calls for nonviolent civil disobedience.
The children’s book community is also rallying. You can go here and donate to Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages.
Its statement reads:
As members of the children’s book industry who have built careers with teen and youth readers around the world, we jointly and strongly condemn the inhumane treatment of immigrant children evidenced by the United States Department of Justice in the past week. We believe that innocent children should not be separated from their parents. We believe the “Zero Tolerance” directive issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions is cruel, immoral and outrageous. We believe the Department of Justice is engaging in practices that should be restricted to the pages of dystopian novels. We demand and expect better, and call on our readers to do the same.
I have a hard time writing about writing news on Do Good Wednesdays, but the third book in my middle grade TIME STOPPERS series comes out this August. It’s a really big adventure epic about kids fighting evil because apparently that’s what kids have to do. Actually, it’s what we all have to do.