Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Thursday, December 22, 2005  

Law: Gravelles abused caged children

Today, a judge in the Midwest ruled correctly in a child abuse case that I believe is revealing evidence of the insensitive attitude many white Americans have toward African-Americans. Michael and Sharen Gravelle are a white couple with a history of child abuse. However, their obvious unfitness did not prevent Ohio officials from allowing them to adopt eleven black children. Local officials knew that some of the children were being kept in cages for at least two years before finally taking action to remove them from the Gravelles in September. The climax to the drama is a ruling that the Gravelles abused eight of the children.

CBS News reports.

(AP) A couple who adopted 11 children with a host of health and behavioral problems abused some of the youngsters by making them sleep in wooden cages without pillows or mattresses, a judge ruled Thursday.

The children will remain in foster care until Juvenile Judge Timothy Cardwell holds a hearing on who should get custody.

Their adoptive parents, Michael and Sharen Gravelle, have not been charged with a crime and denied abusing the youngsters. They said they built the cages in 2003 to protect the children from each other and themselves.

. . .The children were taken from the Gravelles in September after a social-services investigator visited the home and examined the wood and chicken-wire cages she likened to a kennel.

Prosecutor Russell Leffler said his office was pleased with the ruling. His investigation continues and he said he's unsure whether criminal charges will be filed.

The Gravelles, blue-collar people with no qualifications for caring for special needs children, apparently adopted the children as a way to increase their income. They were paid at least $500 per month in adoption subsidies for each child. Their costs were limited since the children did not attend school, slept in their cages, were fed only when the Gravelles unlocked the kitchen and rarely wore shoes.

Michael Gravelle previously lost custody of his biological daughter after allegations of sexual abuse. She says he molested her when she was a pre-teen, and, again, after she was returned to him when she was 15. Gravelle's biological son says he was physically abused by his father. Both adult Gravelle children, now in their early 30s, say they have had no contact with the Gravelles since fleeing their abuse as teenagers. Sharen Gravelles' daughter, who sought custody of the adopted children, has had problems with the law and shares a trailer with a drug addict with a rap sheet of drunken driving arrests. His three children live with them in the trailer.

The evidence reveals that the Gravelles are about as unsuitable to be adoptive parents as anyone can be. But, a movement to support them sprung up among conservative white Christians who homeschool their children. Members of the movement described the Gravelles as 'angels' and 'heroes.'

I find it amazing that anyone could look at the circumstances of this case and not see the obvious. But, I fear I underestimate the role race can play in blinding people when it comes to even basic decency. The people defending the Gravelles see nothing wrong with their treatment of the children, much as slave owners saw nothing wrong with the often brutal treatment they meted out to their slaves.

Considering that the Gravelles also abused his biological children, who are white, I suspect they are crude, mean-spirited people, period. But, the fact the adopted children are black may be the reason the Gravelles were allowed to mistreat more children without intervention for years.

What's next?

The judge must decide whether to sever the Gravelles' parental rights. He could return some or all the children to the couple, but that would just be asking for more trouble. I believe the children should be kept in foster care with their eligibility for adoption reopened. Any families seeking to adopt them should be subjected to rigorous home studies.

I also believe that criminal charges should be brought against the Gravelles. This situation is the second time they have been found to be abusive. A conviction on criminal charges would prevent them from using subterfuge to become foster parents or adopt again.

posted by J. | 10:15 PM