observations and opinion
Mobile County, Alabama (according to Wikipedia) has a total area of about 1,600 square miles and a population just nudging over 400,000. Among that population is an extended family which, until 2012 was dominated by a guy named Donnie Holland. Holland is dead now, of what is suspected to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. What Holland did, authorities say, was act as ringleader in an extensive enterprise of pimping-out the family’s children as sex slaves. Customers came from within and without the family itself. At least one girl, Brittany Wood, is dead – allegedly at the hand of “Uncle Donnie” – because after getting molested by another relative and ensnared in the “family business” she wanted out. She would’ve been a great witness for the prosecution, the government says. Too bad she disappeared the day Donnie shot himself.
Here’s what the New York Daily News reports today:Eight of Woods’ adult relatives and three family friends have been charged with dozens of felonies in two counties as the alleged members of an incestuous ring that authorities say shared children for group sex. Holland was the leader, prosecutors say, of what has been described as the largest sex ring ever uncovered in Alabama. Wood was a victim and likely key witness.
One’s immediate thought about this is to be reminded that not all depravity belongs to ISIS. There is really nothing else to be said about a multi-generational family incestuous orgy prostitution child abuse ring, is there? It defies all natural comprehension.
The “clan” got away with this for a long time, despite the fact that more than one relative had been reported, arrested and convicted of child abuse inside the family. It is impossible to understand how a family could do this. It is equally impossible to understand how this nightmare could persist in a community. But it did.
So the question arises how is it that friends, neighbours, teachers, daycare workers, pastors, other relatives, social workers, police officers, prosecutors, judges, state child protection authorities, local radio and TV stations, bloggers, nosy types, pizza delivery men, drug dealers, drugstore owners or anyone else in Mobile County managed not to notice. Or did notice it, but did nothing.
How did it go on so long? In all likelihood there was, to borrow my own phrase, a “formidable squadron of cowards” at work here. No, not the victims, but rather a host of people surrounding them.
If curious about “who governs Mobile County” I can report that it appears to be a blend of Republicans and Democrats. The President of the County Commission is a Dem; the others are GOP. Statehouse representation seems evenly split. Federal representation is solidly GOP. I note this only because if one was tempted to hang one party or the other with what appears to be a massive local dereliction of duty, it would be unreasonable. All of them should hang (metaphorically speaking, of course). But they won’t.
The concept of public officials taking responsibility for what happens under their watch seems to be a dead letter. Two weeks ago a gun-toting maniac, after slaying a soldier on the street, trotted inside Canada’s Parliament and got within feet of the Prime Minister and two party caucuses. It took a sharpshooting public servant to bring him down. At the time, we were all dazed and horrified but the question did arise: how the hell does a guy with a rifle walk into Parliament? The fact that luck – and one man – intervened to stop further carnage is good news, but it doesn’t inspire confidence.
Individual officers and police officials work under orders – they do their best. And they seem to have on October 22nd. This appears to be a systemic failure, and a big one: the Executive’s life was saved, but barely. That week it might have been unfair to dole out blame for the event, but two weeks later you have to wonder: where is Ministerial responsibility in this story? Why hasn’t someone resigned, and by someone I mean a senior person. The “buck” is supposed to stop at the top. But this particular buck seems to have been jammed in someone’s pocket. It’s a magic trick.
So too in Mobile County, Alabama. Will any elected or senior officials grab the buck and say “it stops here?” Wouldn’t that person, whoever he or she is, be doing what we used to call “the right thing” if they did? At the very least, is someone in Mobile County, Alabama prepared to ask the question: how did we let this happen? how did this large criminal conspiracy go undetected?
I wonder if the answer will go undetected too?