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What a horrible, horrible tragedy — times two.

Jiterria Lightner and her three kids, ages 4, 3 and 2, were at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport on their way home from a trip to Florida on Sept. 25. While Jiterria sat less than 15 feet away, trying to arrange a ride home, her kids were in a little space between the escalator and the stairs.

It was the freakiest of freak accidents. “They were between the stairs and the escalators when he was carried up on his arm up the escalator,” Jiterria’s lawyer, Michael Greene, said. “It appears that he was trying to reach over to grab the stair railing and when he tried to grab the railing, that’s when he took the unfortunate fall.”

Three-year-old Jaiden Cowart was rushed to the hospital where he died. While originally this was labeled an accident, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department decided last week to take out three misdemeanor warrants against the mom, charging her with child abuse.

If she is found guilty, she could face a maximum of 150 days in jail.

Of course, if this was really about a mom not supervising her kids, how does taking her away from them for 150 days make things better?

HINDSIGHT AND VICTIM-BLAMING

Obviously, it doesn’t. That’s why I don’t think it’s really about a lack of supervision. I think it’s about fear. The fact that this truly could happen to any of us is so scary, we can’t deal with it. So, instead, we — or at least the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police — pretend that no, this only happens to terrible parents who are criminally abusive. Not to saintly you and me.

It echoes the way we used to blame rape victims: “She was asking for it by wearing that outfit. I would never be raped because I don’t ask for it.” Our fear made us twist the victim into the perpetrator, or at least the accomplice.

Here, our fear that something this horrific could happen out of the blue (at the end of a vacation, even! Something the mom did to make her kids happy seems to turn a normal person in a normal circumstance into the depraved author of her own grief. If she’s a terrible mom, then this tragedy serves her right, and the universe still seems fair. We can breathe a sigh of relief.

Except, we can’t. Not when the authorities can pretend bad things only happen to bad people.

RAGE INSTEAD OF SYMPATHY

When that is society’s assumption, parents feel compelled to helicopter. They know they cannot count on sympathy and support if, God forbid, an unpredictable tragedy occurs. Remember the mom whose child fell into the gorilla enclosure? Surely that was as unpredictable as this sad airport story. And yet, many people reacted as if of course all moms should be on high alert anytime their child is at the zoo, because it is so darn common and so very likely that their kids could fall into a cage. Hindsight, fear and a deep unwillingness to recognize the fickleness of fate combined into a storm of hate and victim-blaming.

As lawyer Greene put it: “This is one of those incidents that could’ve happened to any one of the members of this community, and, unfortunately, the decision came down to charge her with a crime.”

Unfortunate, indeed. And chilling.

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Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of “Has the World Gone Skenazy?” To learn more about Lenore Skenazy (lskenazy@yahoo.com) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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