South Carolina shares blame with Sametta Heyward 

State of Shame: A family tragedy in a family values state

The sovereign State of South Carolina lacked the money to provide child care for Sametta Heyward's children. But it will surely find the money to prosecute her and imprison her for leaving her son and daughter in a deathly hot car while she worked a double shift at her job.

There are enough ironies here to fill a Garrison Keillor novel — but none of them are funny. Sametta Heyward's children died the same week the Annie E. Casey Foundation published its annual Kid's Count survey of conditions for children living in America.

South Carolina ranked No. 46 — a typical finish in the state where the motto is "Thank God for Mississippi." (And Mississippi did not disappoint, coming in dead last.)

What the Kids Count survey showed is that S.C. ranks among the worst states for low birth weight babies, infant mortality, and child mortality. Shawn Heyward, 4, and his sister Triniti, 1, will be reflected in next year's Kid's Count survey.

Irony: Hanahan Police Lt. Mike Fowler told the media that Heyward made no attempt to call for emergency assistance when she found her children unconscious in her car after more than eight hours. "The more you find out about it, the more disturbing it becomes," he said — and one can only imagine he did it with an air of pontifical righteousness.

But, it is disturbing based on what we have found out about the deaths of Shawn and Triniti Heyward. Her mother could not find anyone to care for them before she went to work on Sunday, July 29. She had planned to work a double shift — 16 hours. Her aunt said she thought Heyward was trying to save enough money to move her broken little family out of a flophouse motel into better accommodations. She found her work environment so intimidating that she could not leave for even a few minutes to check on her children. After more than eight hours she told her supervisor she had a babysitting crisis and left.

In her Chevrolet Cavalier, she found her toddlers unconscious, with a faint pulse. Apparently, they died shortly after. She took them home, washed and dressed their bodies, placed them in plastic garbage bags and put them under the sink.

It is hard to understand her thinking during this process. It is hard to read this story without weeping. We know all this because she recorded it in a suicide note. She did not kill herself, however, a circumstance for which Lt. Fowler displayed only suspicion.

Sametta Heyward made many bad decisions that day, as she has all her life, giving birth to a number of children out of wedlock, being involved in several petty police incidents. But it might be useful to remember that she is not just an individual agent, but the product of a very dysfunctional society.

Irony: In a state that considers itself the family values capital of the world, how could something like this be allowed to happen? In the name of family values, this state voted 3-to-1 last year to ban gay marriage. In the name of family values, our state legislators have used every conceivable means of intimidation and legerdemain to obstruct a woman's constitutional right to an abortion. Yet, it cannot properly fund education or daycare.

Irony: Sametta Heyward was working at a Charleston County home for the disabled when she left her children in the car. The county can afford a home for the disabled — as, indeed, it should — but has somehow failed to provide proper day care for the children of its employees.

So Sametta Heyward will, in all likelihood, be convicted of double homicide by child abuse and sentenced to prison. A lot of smug and sanctimonious people will pat themselves on the back for sending a powerful message about child abuse in South Carolina. But nothing will change, because the system hasn't changed. Children will continue to be born underweight, to die in infancy, to live in poverty, to lack health care, to drop out of school, to use drugs, to join gangs, to go to jail, to have children of their own, children who will be destined to repeat the cycle. They will do it, not because they are wicked, but because this is the kind of society we have created in South Carolina. And until we replace the people and the attitudes that have dominated this state for 337 years, this shameful heritage will continue.

It will continue as long as we rank 37th in the nation in individual income. It will continue as long as we rank third in life expectancy. It will continue as long as we rank 47th for percentage of high school graduates and 45th for percentage of college graduates in the population. It will continue as long as we have the third-highest violent crime rate in the nation. It will continue....


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