Free-Range Kids

Watch This: Police Interrogation of Arrested Mom Is Patronizing and Wrong

It is not a crime to let a child of 9 play at a park during the summer. In fact, it is a time-honored tradition.


Debra Harrell
Support Debra Harrell Facebook page

Debra Harrell, the South Carolina mom who was jailed for letting her 9-year-old play at a popular park while she worked her shift at McDonalds is now suing WJBF-TV, the station that aired a tape of her police interrogation.

On its Facebook page, WJBF-TV originally included footage of Harrell giving her name, address, and social security number. This outraged viewers as much as it did Harrell's pro bono lawyer, Robert Phillips, who filed the suit. Even more outrageous is the interrogation itself, which included these exchanges:

OFFICER (talking about Harrell's daughter):  "So you leave her at the park unsupervised?"

HARRELL: "Yeah, but you know—everybody's there. I didn't feel I needed to be up there, sitting up there."

OFFICER: "You're her mother, right?"

HARRELL: "Yes sir."

OFFICER: "You understand that you're in charge of her well being?"

HARRELL: "Yes sir."

OFFICER: "It's not other people's job to do so."

Could the officer be any more patronizing, cruel, or wrong? It is not a crime to let a child of 9 play at a park during the summer. In fact, it is a time-honored tradition. 


Moreover, it isn't insane to think that a sunny playground teeming with kids, parents, and park workers is a safe place for a child to spend some glorious time. Children don't need constant supervision, and for the law to insist they do is to make a criminal out of anyone who lets her kids walk to school, run an errand, or deliver papers. It is outlawing independence and trust.

Even so, the officer insists to Harrell that leaving a child alone at all constitutes "willful abandonment," a crime.

As a parent in charge of my own kids' well-being, I believe that it is healthy for them to be on their own sometimes, and good for them to be out in public without me—dependent on their own wits and the help of strangers, should they need it. They are teens now, but I also believed that when they were in the single digits.

There's one more clip from this extremely sad and disturbing interview in which Harrell is trying to explain to a second interrogator what happened to her daughter after their home was burglarized:

"They broke in my house. She don't have no TV, no nothing to look at no more. I thought that [the park] would be the safest place for her."

It was. It is! A place to get exercise. A place to make friends. A place to play: that most crucial of childhood activities. It was better than safe, it was a smart place that a good mom would bring her child, except for one problem: The authorities are at war with common sense, an autonomous childhood, and moms.

NEXT: Millennials are More Libertarian than the Political Duopoly Wants to Believe

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  1. When i was at or near that age I played little league baseball.We had one car my father took to work,my mother didn’t drive.I road my bike down the railroad track about a mile to the park for practice in the A.M.,Some how I lived to tell the story

    1. I forgot about Pee Wee League. I was 8 – the ballpark we played at was literally on the other side of town from our house. I rode over there on my trusty Schwinn Typhoon every day during the summer.


      THE HORROR! I’d forgotten all about getting abducted and raped and murdered.

      1. But child abduction is at an all-time high! You were just lucky you grew up in a safer era.

        1. The 70’s – only about one child abduction per city per day. Way lower than today.

        2. Amen.

  2. Isn’t it fascinating that the cop takes exactly the same line on this as so many commenters here did on that story about the kid who was left at the toy store in the mall:

    OFFICER: “It’s not other people’s job to do so.”

    1. I think the difference is that people here were pointing out it was shitty parenting to go shopping while leaving your kid alone in a crowded mall.

      The cop is saying it’s illegal to leave your kid at a playground while you go work.

      Conflation: It’s a common problem.

    2. The “other people’s job” essentially boiled down to liability. I don’t see that there’s the same liability issue here. Usually liability on public properly is restricted to poor maintenance. But there’s no expectation in a public park of the existence of a supervising authority, unless such existence is explicitly organized, such as a lifeguard.

      1. You two can try to draw a distinction to defend yourselves, but it’s transparent that RC is right and you’re wrong.

        1. Clearly the must successful form of debate is IT’S OBVIOUS. BOW TO MY SUPERIOR INTELLECT.

          Works every time.

          1. What I saw from that original debate is that you had an impulse that “leaving kid at store is bad” and came up with a post hoc justification why it made sense. The business owes the same duty of care to a child in a store as it does for an adult. I don’t know where you’re coming up with this extra “liability” that justifies your judgmentalism.

            1. Again, bad parenting, not illegal parenting. And it is BAD parenting- subjective as such a judgement might be. But claiming one’s reasoning is ad hoc justification vs. explanation of their principles is silly.

      2. Yes – it actually boiled down to private property, which MegaloMonocle still doesn’t seem to understand.

        1. I know there are distinctions, although as things currently stand I think the distinction between public and private property has been badly blurred by “public accomodations” laws.

          I’m not even saying that those distinctions aren’t valid, to some extent.

          Here’s the deal, though: nobody was ever saying that it was the store’s “job” or “responsibility” in any sense (other than simple human decency) to keep an eye on a kid.

          The common thread seems to be that it is the parent’s absolute, non-delegable responsibility to keep their child under their eye 24/7 unless and until their child is in the custody of a state-approved facility (school, day care, whatever). The idea that civil
          society (friends, neighbors, the public, whoever) can be relied upon in any way is simply unmutual badthink, or something.

          Like I said, a common thread.

        2. Private property open to the public.

          If they wanted to put up a sign saying “no unattended children”, they could have. They didn’t do that.

          1. Private property open to the public for the purpose of commerce.

            If they wanted to put up a sign saying “no picnic lunches”, they could have…

            If they wanted to put up a sign saying “no book club meetings”, they could have…

            If they wanted to put up a sign saying “no ultimate frisbee”, they could have…

      3. The “other people’s job” essentially boiled down to liability. I don’t see that there’s the same liability issue here.

        Yeah, well that argument would be horseshit. That store owner was no more liable for that kid than he is for anyone else in that store. If he had a sign posted saying “no unsupervised children” that’d be one thing. He didn’t.

        1. So we’re saying you’ve got to post signs to indemnify yourself from liabilities? So, if they didn’t have a sign that said, “No Crack Sales Allowed” they would be liable for crack sold on their property?

          The argument that they could’ve had a sign is bullshit.

          1. Noooo, he’s saying that the liabilities are the same regardless of the patron’s age.

            1. Yes, the liability is the same- but the potential for incident is MUCH higher.

              1. More to the point, the ability to respond is not the same. A retail store can and would ask an adult to leave after loitering in the store for an hour and a half with no intention of buying anything. For practical reasons they can’t do so with an unsupervised young child.

        2. The store owners don’t need a sign. They decided they did not want an unattended child in their store as is there right.

    3. Wait. Hold on. I thought it took a village.

      1. Villages are a prosaic conception of human interaction. It fosters tribalism, racism, and barbarism. The modern child takes a nation to raise.

      2. Hillary Clinton really fucked up that notion. The idea that it takes a village is a pretty good one if you don’t expand the idea of village to mean massive welfare and regulatory state and if you don’t assume that the village must be conscripted to do it.

        1. Which is why the better title for her book is It Takes Some Pillage.

    4. Odd that, when it comes to kids here illegally, we’re told the exact opposite.”These are our children” I believe was the quote. She’s a bad parent for leaving her child at part-yet foreign parents who send their children alone to make their way to the US are supposed to be good ones? This is screwed up.

  3. And now the police are making her daughter even more safe by locking up her mother, thereby preventing her from earning money to buy her daughter food and stuff.


    1. That’s the most fucked up part. Even if it were a bad idea for mom to leave the kid in the park for the day, arresting mom is almost certainly going to do far more harm to the kid.

      1. The last thing in the world they care about is the kid’s welfare. This is about being a nosy prick behind the color of law.

  4. Mom knows her kid better than anyone else. It’s arrogant to assume the kid can’t take care of herself, because the officer is not the kid’s father and is completely ignorant of that child’s capabilities and the mother’s fitness as a parent. End of story.

    1. See, that’s where you’re wrong. Nobody knows you better than the state.

  5. I’m downright shocked that any of us made it to adulthood without being kidnapped, abused, and otherwise mistreated while playing games unsupervised at parks! I swear, every time my friends and I would go play at the park by ourselves, we had to spend the entire time dodging pedophiles, ransom takers, and serial killers. It’s amazing that we were able to find off this horde day in and day out.

    Now it is actually dangerous for kids to play by themselves at the park. There’s a large risk of an Apache attack chopper parent becoming “concerned” and having the authorities haul mommy off to be sodomized at the county jail while the kids are abused in a foster home for a few weeks.

    1. But things are soooo much more dangerous nowadays than when we were kids! Why, hundreds of kids a day are snatched away by strangers!

      (oh, the arguments I get into with my mother about this stuff, since she actually seems to believe things like that)

      1. Maybe she saw it on CNN?

        1. Jerry Springer.

          Wait, which is worse?

          1. Facebook is planning to flag parody news reports because people believe them.

            When are they going to start flagging CNN, Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal…

        2. “Nancy Grace will lead the human race to its end. She is the herald of the apocalypse. The harbinger of death. They must not follow her.”

            1. No ISWYDT?

              (Nancy Grace rhymes with Kara Thrace!)

      2. Why, hundreds of kids a day are snatched away by strangers!

        Most of those strangers are acting under the color of law, possibly wearing badges. Abduction ‘for your own good’ is no less horrific than any other kind.

      3. “But things are soooo much more dangerous nowadays than when we were kids! Why, hundreds of kids a day are snatched away by strangers”

        Indeed they are.

        Except now a days the snatchers are agents of the state who are above the law

    2. We’re not living in the same world now! If not, why would we need a big humongous giant overreaching oppressive government to protect us?

      1. Don’t people realize we are living in the “POST 911 WORLD”?

        1. The ghost of Osama bin Laden needs your child for the jihad!!

    3. My hometown had (has?) a giant park system and in the middle of it they have the Rec Center. As a kid you can go in the Rec and ask for any number of things from board games, to sporting goods (gloves, bats, balls, racquets, etc.).

      Every day in the summer most of us kids would have to do some chores. After that if you stuck around the house, you got more chores. So we went to the Rec and met all the other kids down there.

      I get every morning there were about 50 to 60 kids around the Rec trying to figure out what to do. I don’t think there were any adults. The Rec was run by high schoolers who needed a summer job.

      1. I lived in a farming community that was quickly being turned into suburbia. We had a similar Park, but it was too far away for a 5-10 year old to bike. Instead we played in the corn fields.

        We about got shot a few times by the neighbors. They thought we were coyotes. That was the worst of it, though. No pedophiles, no serial killers, no kidnappers, just a couple guys with rifles, hoping to find off coyotes.

  6. How long before parents are arrested for leaving their kid to play alone in their backyard while the parents are in the house? After all, some crook could just jump the fence and snatch them away!

    1. Probably not much longer if we don’t have a ‘libertarian moment’ for real.

      There was a recent story about a mother being arrested for swearing in front of her children. We’re almost back to the Puritan age where they burned witches and heading straight for the dark ages.

    2. I was declined for adopting a dog on this basis, that I might sometimes leave it alone in a fenced secluded yard with 6-8 foot fences and gates on all sides. My children also played in this yard, with my only popping head out the window every 10 minutes to check/yell at them. I also allowed my daughter to walk to school with the neighbor boy who was a few years older and did the same with my own 2 at about the 11/8 range. Clearly, I am a menace that the feds should have picked up years ago. I even allowed the children at 12-13 to walk with a friend to the shopping area 8 blocks from my house, in the Bronx yet.

    3. Happened in Texas. And the mom was actually supervising.…..y-outside/

  7. OFFICER: “You’re her mother, right?”

    HARRELL: “Yes sir.”

    OFFICER: “You understand that you’re in charge of her well being?”

    HARRELL: “Yes sir.”

    OFFICER: “It’s not other people’s job to do so.”

    Ok, now I’m really confused. That’s not what Melissa Harris Perry told me…

    1. It takes a village idiot…

    2. Why do I think the proper response to the question “You understand that you’re in charge of her well being?” should have been “yes, do you?”

  8. Fuck you I want to talk to my lawyer. It is a simple statement but an invaluable one. For God’s sake people, don’t talk to the cops, EVER!!

    1. I’m not so sure that’s a good idea, John. Maybe just being quiet is better. The cops have already shown that they are to the point where they would beat someone to death in front of cameras and not have any fear of anything happening to them worse than a paid vacation.

      1. Good point.

        1. But apparently remaining silent would be evidence of not caring about her child and could be used against her.

          1. Oh, come on now, THAT amendment is soooo 1791.

      2. But if you’re going to be quiet, make sure you first state you are invoking the fifth amendment, otherwise your silence is proof of guilt.

        1. Yeah, by now it’s to the point where you specifically need to say you’re invoking the 5th Amendment as incorporated by the 14, plus any applicable state-law privilege, and asserting any and all applicable privileges. Otherwise they’ll say you’ve waived your rights.

    2. Interesting fact: your 5th amendment rights will work against criminal cases, but not if the state tries to take your children away. Then lawyering up will be taken as noncompliance and evidence of refusal to accept state-recommended parenting practices.

  9. OFFICER: “It’s not other people’s job to do so.”

    And yet there he is.

    1. OFFICER: “It’s not other people’s job to do so.”

      MOTHER: “So what the fuck are you doing interfering with my kid, asshole?”


        MOTHER: ***

        OFFICER 2: She’s not breahthing.

        OFFICER: She was resisting!


          1. OFFICER: BANG!

            OFFICER 2: *shrugs shoulders* BANG!




            1. BANG! needed one more. forgot the dog.

              1. Damn you and your 1 minute faster response!

            2. Oh, I missed the part where she had a dog.

    2. Yeah, where’s Melissa Harris Perry to tells us that it takes a village to raise kids, and that the children belong to the community?

  10. OFFICER: “It’s not other people’s job to do so.”

    Says the man who has no compunction whatsoever about telling other people what to do and how to behave, at gunpoint.

  11. This has just become a social excuse for giving someone else shit and interfering with their lives. “You aren’t parenting properly and I’m going to tell you so”. We create these positions of power (cops) and of course the worst possible people gravitate to the position, does it surprise anyone that of course the people who gravitate to it are going to be controlling busybody scumbags? It’s basically a given.

    1. There is some of that. But they’re also acting in accordance with current cultural norms. I think it’s hard to put the blame on authoritarianism when the cultural expectation is what it is today.

      1. You’re very eager to shift the blame away from the shitheads who are actually doing this.

        1. He’s got a point. I mean, “the shitheads who are actually doing this” were summoned by a concerned citizen with a cultural expectation that parents are supposed to hover over their children all day long.

        2. I can see MP’s point. Maybe the problem is that the law is written such that it allows the enforcing of cultural norms?

          If this lady is being charged with “child endangerment”, then everyone is going to have a different definition of that and the cultural norm is going to change from generation to generation. So the law, in effect, is written in such a way that the police can enforce a tyranny of the majority, the majority opinion what determines what the “norm” is.

            1. I am making the assumption that this woman was jailed for actually breaking a law, and that the officer(s) would need a justification for her arrest.

              I admit I was speaking in generalities.

              1. Got it. Just wanted to be clear here. The only place a law was broken here was in this pig’s mind.

        3. No, I think MP is on to something.

          If one looks at the demographics of the town, it is clear that it is a mostly middle-class, suburban community. Now while the authoritarian impulse of Officer Friendly is well-documented, we shouldn’t forget that he has a whole group of people behind him who have granted him power under the license of “law and order” (i.e., enforcing the cultural norms of the prestiged)

  12. Has anyone met a cop who wasn’t a patronizing prick? I haven’t.

    1. They definitely have special training for that. It’s probably in the same class where they learn how to use big words in stupid ways to make themselves sound smarter.

    2. Actually yes I have.

      Amazingly my last 3 interactions with cops were all decent reasonable guys. But it helps that I am pretty clearly a middle aged upper middle class white dude and I didn’t give them any shit back.

      If I was 25, black, drove a POS car, or lived in a sketchy neighborhood I can’t say the results would have been the same.

  13. With a headline like, “Only On 6: Mother Explains Why She Left Daughter in Park” I expected to find that the local reporter, having faced harsh criticism, interviewed the mother to introduce a little balance. Nope, it was just the transcript from the police interrogation.

    1. What’s bizarre is that, not that long ago the idea that a mother would have to explain why she left her kid at a park would be just, nuts.

      Scene: Bare cinderblock walls. Lightbulb swinging gently overhead. Woman in prison uniform handcuffed to chair.

      COP: “Why did you leave your daughter at the park?”

      MOTHER: “Umm, to play?”

  14. But many ideas become cultural norms through laws. If politicians didn’t create some panic about teh childrenz, then even if some helicopter moms where shrieking, we wouldn’t have these kinds of issues today.

    1. ^ meant to be a reply to MP…..nt_4712143

    2. Which dame first, the chicken or the egg?

      1. Maybe that’s a little unclear.

        Laws don’t spring fully formed from the forehead of the president. Laws come about when a large enough group of people with enough money “convince” politicians that the world won’t behave properly without new laws.

  15. Two things:
    1. She wasn’t “arrested for letting her kid play at the park” She was arrested for abandoning her child for hours at a time with no supervision. Stop being so disengenous. I thought this was “REASON”, not ILLOGIC.
    2. No one cares what the rest of you did when you were 7 years old living in Mayberry in the 50s, m’kay?

    1. If you read the article you’d almost be left with the impression that the distinction between “willful abandonment” and “left to play in a park while mom works” is the crux of Skenazy’s interest in the case.

    2. abandoning her child for hours at a time with no supervision

      Or, in other words, letting her kid play in the park. Leaving a kid on his own for an afternoon is not abandonment by any reasonable definition of the term.

      Kids were probably in more danger being on their own in Mayberry in the 50s.

    3. +1 awesome comment

    4. In regards to #2, quit being a patronizing prick. It’s not “m’kay”.

      1. Ah, I should have looked closer at her screenname.

    5. I thought this was “REASON”, not ILLOGIC.

      Also, drink.

    6. Leaving a child alone for hours is in no way dangerous. Driving them to the park or leaving them with a relative* are far more dangerous.

      *Most child abductions and sexual assaults are committed by family members.

  16. It has never been safer for a child to be a child. It has never been more perilous for an adult to be a parent.

    1. Well put.

  17. I thought this was “REASON”, not ILLOGIC.


  18. Kids are too fat! They need to play more!
    Kids are in danger! They need to be locked inside more!

    1. Kids are a great way to fuck with someone! Let me see how I can use this to fuck with someone and feel morally superior while I do it!

    2. There’s a fortune to be made in child-sized hamster wheels.

      1. There’s a fortune to be made in child-sized hamsters.

        1. Rodents of Unusual Size? I don’t think they actually exist…

        2. Actually, I suspect the big money is in hamster-sized children.

      2. Hey, that was my joke in the last thread.

        1. Apologies. I didn’t see it.

  19. I think it’s hard to put the blame on authoritarianism when the cultural expectation is what it is today.

    Orders were followed.

    1. Well, I would say that the cultural expectation is authoritarianism.

      This is the usual problem with democracy, right? We get the form of government we deserve. The majority determines what the cultural norm is, and since individual rights aren’t protected, the cultural norm determines what’s right and wrong. Then, the police are expected to enforce the cultural norm.

      1. There is a reason it’s called the tyranny of the majority.

    2. A cultural expectation of authoritarianism doesn’t really do much for me, thanks.

      1. You might be living in the wrong place. Or at least at the wrong time.

  20. I thought this was “REASON”, not ILLOGIC.

    It’s early, but fuck it.

  21. Since I’m too lazy and disinterested to actually read it, what imminent and overwhelming peril to the child is claimed to exist, here?

    Are we talking full-on BOOGEYMAN CHILD MOLESTURZ or “what if she falls down and no one is there to kiss her little boo-boo”?

    1. what imminent and overwhelming peril to the child is claimed to exist, here?

      It’s quaint that you think they’re still bothering to think one up. The entirety of the justification was just “we don’t do that here”.

    2. Judging from the reactions the local media was hyping up when this story first broke, it’s the former. Because every park is filled with chomos just waiting to snatch away your child the second you look away.

  22. As most of us are aware, statistically speaking, the child would be more likely to be molested by someone she knows than a stranger lurking at the park.

    1. Dude, pointing that out just means they’ll also criminalize leaving your kid in the care of relatives.

      1. We’re on our way to requiring parenting licenses, or somesuch.

        The big Kultur War fight of 2022 will be over discrimination against trannies who want parenting licenses. Mark my words.

        1. Wait, m-f or f-m?

  23. I know it’s a very minor thing, but I hate the idea that one always calls a cop, Sir. You see every response of this mother. Yes Sir, I understand Sir. Fuck that. Sir is a form of respect, and he sure as hell wasn’t treating her with respect. Calling her ma’am, for instance. Not bullying her, or instance.

    From the news story: “How many times have you taken her up there and don’t just tell me this one crap because that’s not true?” asked the Sergeant.

    This is a public servant, talking to a citizen like this!

    1. It is a bit fucked that that is such a common thing and that most people just accept it.
      I am fairly proud to be able to say that I have never unmockingly addressed anyone as “sir”, cop or not.

      1. I will always address the cop that pulls me over for speeding ‘sir’ in the most polite way possible, particularly if I am guilty (always). I don’t really respect him, just use it as a tactical ploy for leniency. It almost always works!

      2. I will always address the cop that pulls me over for speeding ‘sir’ in the most polite way possible, particularly if I am guilty (always). I don’t really respect him, just use it as a tactical ploy for leniency. It almost always works!

    2. I do it as an extension of calling sports game officials “Sir” during the game.

  24. Lots to be offended and outraged about on this one. The most irritating part for me is the notion, as implied from the arrest and interrogation, that children must be supervised 100% of the time. That’s nonsensical, impractical, and likely to result in a bunch of adults incapable of effectively caring for themselves.

  25. She should look them in the eye and boldly proclaim that there’s no law against letting a nine-year-old play in a park unsupervised.

  26. Is it me or did nobody mention that the cops do everything they can to keep from releasing the name of one of their own who shot a suspect, but are perfectly willing to release stuff like this to try to embarrass suspects?

  27. Maybe they need shirts labeled “Free Range Child”, so people will say, “Oh, it’s one of those,” & leave them & their parents alone. Like, you know, the 5th Amendment counts only if you invoke it explicitly.

  28. Yes parks can be a wonderful place for kids to play. But, where do you think child abductors go to grab kids? They go to parks quite often and select a kid who has no supervision. This woman was in the wrong and saying she isn’t is ridiculous.

    1. derp!

  29. I’m reminded of the parks in Dallas with signs on benches saying ‘You may not sit here unless accompanied by a child’. You know, to keep those child molesters away. Hasn’t always worked but at least the City Council and Parks Department has done something.

  30. This woman is guilty of loving her child. Never talk to the police. They will twist your words and hang you with it.

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