Maria Telesco on the left at the Fresno Center for Nonviolence “Way of Peace” Award banquet on June 18, 2016. Image by Mike Rhodes.

Do We Have Equal Justice under the Law?

By Maria Telesco

You didn’t know our country has two “justice” systems, one for “Rich Somebodies” and another for “Poor Nobodies,” did you? You will soon. Imagine these scenarios, which this writer has visualized after reading about an occurrence described recently in the Fresno Bee:

  • Scenario One. A man walks into a hospital’s newborn nursery, grabs a tiny boy from a bassinet and tries to walk out with him. Two nurses, whose legal and moral duties demand they protect these babies at all costs, try to stop him. He struggles with them, says he’s the kid’s father, possibly might even have said he’s the nephew of a former president and declares the baby needs to go outside for some “fresh air.” It’s against both hospital rules and common sense for nurses to permit anyone to pick up a baby and walk out with it. This “fresh air” thing sounds irrational to the nurses, so they prevent the man from leaving with the two-day-old infant. They have seen or heard of many attempted kidnappings of babies from nurseries but never have they heard of a parent taking a baby out for “fresh air.” It just doesn’t seem right, so they stick to their guns. Even if the man really is the father, how can the nurses know what he has in mind? The nurses say the man kicked one of them and twisted the arm of the other in the melee.
  •  Scenario Two. You are the parents of a newborn. A nurse comes into your wife’s room, tells her she can go home now, and readies a wheelchair to transport her to the car. “Where’s our baby?” you and your wife howl simultaneously. The nurse says “Oh, he’s outside getting some fresh air. Some guy came into the nursery, said he’s a nephew of a former president, so we let him take the baby out for some fresh air. He said he’d meet you in the parking lot.” You go ballistic, call the cops. The nurses are fired, lose their nursing licenses, are arrested and charged with child endangerment. The father of the baby says to the nurses, “How could you do something so stupid, illogical, dangerous and outrageous?” The nurses had no answers.

The Fresno Bee says the man, Douglas Kennedy, son of the late Robert, was the baby’s father. He was acquitted in a New York court of “criminal charges,” though the specific charges were not named in the recent article. The article quotes the judge as saying the baby “was not in any danger except from the nurses’ actions.” Kennedy now is suing the nurses for “defamation and malicious prosecution.”

Huh? What? Kennedy was right and the nurses were wrong? I’m a retired nurse, and it made me shudder to think any nurse would just turn a baby over to whoever demands it. Just because the father is a “Rich Somebody” with a famous name doesn’t guarantee his good intentions, his blood alcohol level, his drug consumption status or his common sense.

When I was a supervisor, and when I taught student nurses, we drummed the rules into them: Never let anyone come into the nursery unless they have authorization; don’t hand over a baby to anyone no matter who they are; when you hand a baby to its mother, always check the ID bands on her arm and the baby’s ankle so there’s no mix-up; and when other relatives want to hold the baby, let the mother hand the baby to them in her room. What was this judge thinking? I hope this doesn’t set some kind of a legal precedent.

Now imagine this scenario. In a Fresno hospital, a dark-skinned woman with Medi-Cal gives birth to a dark-skinned baby. The baby’s dark-skinned father walks into the newborn nursery, picks up his child and heads for the door with infant in hand. He says clearly, though with a strong accent, “I’m taking my baby outside, he needs fresh air.” Is he arrested? Beaten? Handcuffed? Maced? Deported? Imprisoned? Shot? How many bullets does the coroner find in the corpse?

OK, you go figure that out, while I go moan and groan about what this country has come to.

*****

Maria Telesco is a retired registered nurse who has volunteered in various aspects of prison ministry for more than 25 years. Contact her at maria.telesco@sbcglobal.net.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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