Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.

Journal: DFACS NEEDS FIXING: Compared with child's death, Rocker story is unimportant
Jeff Dickerson - Staff
Tuesday • January 18

I should keep this to myself. I ought not shout it from the rooftops. But I am sick and tired of the John Rocker story. Here's why:

A 5-year-old boy who could have been a sweet kid but instead was tethered to a banister like a goat to a post was killed --- killed! --- by those who were supposed to take care of him, including the public. The Department of Family and Children Services, our public backstop to family madness, sputtered and broke and let this boy down. And then, to further disrespect his memory, a Fulton County judge threw out much of the evidence against his alleged killers because a cop did not dot his I's and cross his T's.

And throughout this madness, public chatter reverberates the ignorant mutterings of a 25-year-old jock --- as if they mattered!

On eight occasions, neighbors called Fulton DFACS to report the child was being hogtied and whipped. In one instance that could have saved the boy's life, his grandmother, Pharina Peterson, who was later charged with his murder, was charged with abuse. A judge threw out the case because nobody appeared in court on the boy's behalf.

A note in Peterson's apartment said the boy was to be fed oatmeal in the morning, grits for lunch and grits for dinner. It will be ignored as evidence, thrown out with a phone cord, pantyhose and a belt used to tie and beat the child.

My daughter weighed 29 pounds when she was only 2 --- and she's a girl. When this boy died at 5, he weighed 29 pounds. He was starved to death, beaten to death --- nobody knows which --- and we're obsessed with the meanderings of a young jock wounded by the insults of New York fans.

Can we divert our gaze, please, to the death of this child? To the inherent incompetence of a system that ignored eight pleadings on his behalf? To a judge who sent Terrell home with his alleged abuser instead of demanding that somebody show up in court to make his case? To a court system that has suppressed evidence because a police officer, acting in good faith, made a dumb mistake?

Can we divert our gaze, if it is not too painful, to a public that would rather drone on about a dumb jock than rise in indignation over a dead child? Wouldn't it be wonderful if Andrew Young and Hank Aaron lent their incredible moral heft to Terrell's cause?

Let's digress from Rocker long enough to tell our legislators to fix DFACS. To allow doctors who find obvious signs of child abuse to seize custody for three days until a court hearing, as state Sen. Nadine Thomas (D-DeKalb) proposes. To force the system to operate in the light of day instead of under a cloak of secrecy, where it can hide its lies and incompetence. To insist that social workers know what they are doing, and that they are equipped with tools (like laptops; parole officers use them to track parolees) to keep track of children in trouble and to follow up on reports of abuse.

Kids are dying. John Rocker's comments will kill no one.

A postscript: A column on Terrell last week suggested rhetorically that no one was advocating on the boy's behalf. Don C. Keenan has worked tirelessly as his attorney and in honoring his memory, even making sure there would be a stone at Terrell's gravesite. Terrell has advocates. We just need for our public agencies to be among them.

Jeff Dickerson is a member of the Journal editorial board. His column runs on Tuesday.


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