Friday, June 7, 2013

The Life and Death of Gabriel Fernandez

Gabriel Fernandez was just eight-years-old when he died two weeks ago. His mother and her boyfriend are the ones who have been arrested for causing his injuries, but it is the county child welfare agency that is shouldering much of the public blame for his death. Unfortunately, the outcome of such outrage, according to a Los Angeles Times editorial, "is too often a cycle of invective, firings, discipline and policy changes that may satisfy a hunger for action, but only of the wheel-spinning sort."

I wrote about such "hunger for action" last month, and here it is once again. A child is dead. Something must be done. Now! Something will be done, we will feel better, for a moment, until the next time. And there will be a next time, because we always manage to avoid the truth of such matters: We failed Gabriel Fernandez.

"You are my sibling. We are family. This is the essential truth of life. It is the only moral truth that really matters."

Being family means that we are responsible for one another. It means operating as a community that gets involved in one another's lives, not as a collection of individuals who simply happen to coexist in the same geographic area. It means that when one of our siblings is needlessly killed, we all share in the blame and shame.

Is that last sentence unfair or just uncomfortable? Look into Gabriel's face in the family photographs published by the Times. Have we truly done everything in our power to ensure the safety and well-being of all children? Why does our "hunger for action" only seem to materialize after children like Gabriel are dead, rather than while there is still a chance for them to escape the abuse? Is it only the social workers' fault? For me, it is the photo in which he is wearing a yellow t-shirt. That is the one whereby Gabriel asks me to accept personal culpability, no matter how minuscule, for his fate.

The Times editorial on this matter concludes thusly, "There may always be tragic child deaths. But we can do better." That means all of us. All of us.

Rest in peace Gabriel. I am so sorry that we failed you.