Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian via AP


hart foster parents found guilty of murder-suicide

April 8, 2019
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TW: This article contains mentions of child abuse, death and suicide.

When Black women online aired their discomfort towards the picture of a then-12-year-old Black boy named Devante Hart hugging a police offer in Portland, the wave of “well actually” flooded the timelines. Followed by numerous, half-baked attempts at justifying an image’s ability to end the racial tension, if we tried. America is nose-deep in racial tension and the pained undercurrent of the boy’s tears in that photo will never leave me. Just 5 years after that picture went viral, a special jury in California just declared that the death of Sarah and Jennifer Hart, and their six foster children, was a murder-suicide, according to the New York Times. The remains of Markis (19), Hannah (16), Jeremiah (14), Abigail (14), and Ciera (12) were found in the car along with their foster parents but Devonte (15) is still missing, presumed dead.

What happened during that time was a constant cacophony, of tragedy after tragedy, as the story of Devonte Hart and the unwholesome hug opened up a doorway into the heartbreaking life of a foster child who endured abuse, abandonment and exploitation from the white lesbian couple barely looking after him and his siblings. Devonte’s infamy was brought about by a “free hugs” sign he would often wear in public. It was that sign that prompted that hug from the cop, and also raised suspicion as to why a child handing out free hugs would be in that state. Had it been a voluntary hug? It felt staged, and the more information about the Harts that came out because of the newfound attention, the harder it became for the uneasy feeling to go away.

The media ate up the “Kumbaya Blended Family” bit perpetuated by Sarah, Jennifer and their Black and Brown kids. It was like that cringing liberal dream movie, Instant Family, where Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne carry on the life-long white tradition of gentrifying parenthood, because the system doesn’t actively oppress and discriminate against them. The Harts framed themselves as the real thing and the liberal media ate it up, regurgitating it at will. The couple even released another (very staged) video of the Hart kids singing “We Are So Provided For”. The reality, though, was exactly opposite, with incriminating child welfare reports dating back to 2010, detailing abuse and neglect of the children. The New York Times  reported that in 2011, Sarah Hart had hurt Abigail so bad that she was convicted for misdemeanor assault. The Harts got to keep their kids though.

“They are like trained robots,” said one concerned witness upon calling the authorities. Insubordination was met with severe punishment, with the kids isolated from the world, as the Harts moved the family from Minnesota (where the conviction happened) to Oregon (where another onlooker reported that children looked malnourished), to Washington. In all three places, witnesses reported something amiss with the state of the Hart kids, but Sarah and Jennifer kept shuffling them from state-to-state, avoiding the repercussions of their abuse. One could argue that the Hart children were also failed by witnesses, people like the family that mentioned Hannah had knocked on their door at 1:30 am, asking for a ride to Seattle. The young girl had mentioned that she jumped out of the window to escape. Why this family didn’t call the police is frustratingly obvious to anyone who isn’t white. Instead, they let her hide when her mother arrived, and the child snuck back home eventually.

White people let these children down, and it is that implanted virtue that whiteness enjoys putting Black children in white homes that either stamp out their heritage and spirit, or abuses them outright. Child abuse bears no color but an overwhelmed and underfunded foster care system is putting Black and Brown kids at most risk in a country as racist as America. It is imbued in the lifeblood of everyday interactions and children with no place to go bear the ugly brunt of it. The media protected Sarah and Jennifer Hart, and now it has to live with the fact that it — along with the numerous Facebook groups of white women showering the Harts with praise — played a part in the death of those kids

On March 23rd, three days before the crash, neighbors of the Harts contacted Washington state’s child welfare agency after Devonte knocked on their door asking for food because his guardians withheld it as punishment. That call resulted in a check-in call that amounted to nothing but a knock on the door that went unanswered. According to The Associated Press, Sarah Hart had googled suicide, Benedryl doses and whether drowning was painful. At the time of the crash, Sarah had 42 doses of Benedryl in her system and Jennifer had a blood-alchohol level of 0.102 – 0,08 or higher is illigal in California. “They both decided that this was going to be the end,” California Highway Patrol investigator Jake Slates told The Associated Press. “That if they can’t have their kids that nobody was going to have those kids.”

“Listen to Black women,” they say. Every time but when it counts, I’m sure. Why did these Black and Brown children need to die for a real investigation to take place? To make the matter worse, a sickening attempt at whitewashing the tragedy was penned by a lieutenant who wanted to redeem the shells of humanity that killed these children because they felt entitled to their lives. Those women did not deserve those kids. Those kids did not deserve to die. Too many people dropped the ball in between those events, all because of what they wanted to believe, instead of listening to the starving kids knocking on their front door. None of the witnesses in the report mentioned calling the police, so my point stands.