Too Much Dysfunction

Here’s a lurid story:

An 8-year-old Birmingham boy is charged with murder in the beating death of a toddler girl left in his care, the youngest person in recent memory charged with murder in Jefferson County.

The girl’s mother is charged with manslaughter after police say she left her young daughter in the care of a group of children while she partied at a nightclub.

Read the details, if you like stomach problems. 26yo mom, clearly problems with endemic poverty and lack of education and any other dysfunction you can think of. Eight-year-old is oldest child in house, 18-month-0ld won’t stop crying because she’s 18 months old, oldest person in house beats her to death because he’s eight, has no idea that sometimes you can’t make a kid stop crying, and who knows what other hell he’s been through because he thinks beating a crying child is the right answer.

This kind of crime fiction is basically inaccessible to me as someone who grew up in a stable, middle-class family. I would always be coming at it from outside, portraying the detective who thought they’d seen it all, but this is a series of decisions that even the detective can’t understand. Why do any of these people do what they do? Poverty, dysfunction, PTSD, violence, bad nutrition, and endless children they can’t afford. It’s not my world. The best I could do is come up with some kind of external motive: there’s money involved, somehow, in people treating their children like this. The mom left the daughter there knowing there was an adult in the house after all, and that the daughter was going to be pimped out, but hey, that’s how she herself was raised, and she’s functioning adult…

Or, and better, there’s a functioning adult in the house, but they get called away. Something so compelling happens that they’re willing to cross their fingers and leave six children under nine in a house alone. Make them a decent person, ie, not someone who would be called away by crack or sex or whatever. There’s a real, important reason why they had to leave the house. But what could it be?

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