by | May 18, 1997 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

This is how you know crime has sunk its teeth into your society. When innocent people are branded as criminals — because they weren’t scared enough.

Take the case of a Danish woman, Annette Sorensen, who was visiting New York City with her 14-month-old baby. She was having a meal with the child’s father, who lives in Brooklyn.

They were at a Manhattan restaurant called Dallas BBQ. Sorensen left her baby in a stroller outside the window, while she and the father sat inside at a table.

Now, this is not something I would do, and perhaps not something you would do — and we’ll get to why in a minute. But Sorensen is from Denmark, where, she says, leaving your child outside a restaurant is not uncommon and is no big deal. According to many Danes who have been interviewed in the past few days, Sorensen is right.

But it didn’t go over well at the Dallas BBQ. A baby alone on the street is going to draw attention in this country — even in New York. And reportedly, several waiters and customers told Sorensen that her child was crying, and she should do something about it.

Of course, if she brought the baby inside and it was crying, they would probably glare at her and tell her to do something about it, too.

But never mind that. Sorensen did not go outside and retrieve her baby. So someone called the cops. And the next thing you know, the police were taking the infant away.

Sorensen began to scream. The father got into a fight with the cops. The couple were dragged off to jail for two nights, while the baby was put in foster care.

The charge was endangering the welfare of a child.

Welcome to America.

The way things were

Now, anyone who says this case was handled correctly is 1) a police brutality fan or 2) one of those self-righteous types who thinks he was put on Earth to tell others how to parent their children.

I am not defending what Sorensen did. Having grown up in this country — and having lived in New York City — I doubt I would even take a baby into Manhattan if I could help it.

But that’s not the point. Common sense suggests that once the police arrived, they could have calmly told Sorensen that she needed to keep the baby with her, or else she might be charged with a crime. They could have told the father, “Hey, you live in America. Tell her how it is. Or next time, you could be arrested, too.”

I’m sure this would have worked. It has to be better than throwing two people in jail and sticking an infant in foster care. How is that the best thing for the child? Two nights away from its mother?

When the court returned the baby to Sorensen Wednesday, it did so under the condition that she be monitored, and that the father’s home be visited. The couple must go back to court this week and prove to a judge they are trustworthy parents.

You should be scared by this, folks. We should all be scared by this. A government that can take away your child so abruptly, and shackle you with arbitrary parenting restrictions, is a government whose laws should be questioned. I’m not trying to sound like some right-wing talk show host here. But it’s not so long ago that leaving a child in a car, or sleeping in a stroller, was something you saw in every town in America.

Now we call the cops.

“This is a nightmare,” Sorensen said.

Yes. But the real culprits were never charged.

No way to exist

The real culprits are the perverts who would steal a child off the street, the sickos who now have this whole nation afraid to blink, lest someone disappear with its babies. We have become so inured to these jerks that we now get indignant when a mother dares to leave her child alone for a few minutes. How could she do that? What kind of mother is she?

But we are taking our anger out on the wrong people. We are accepting this war zone as a natural world. And now this woman — with no history of crime, no history of abuse, no history of anything except being careless by our standards — faces charges that could land her in jail. At one point, even the Danish Embassy got involved, but withdrew over a question of diplomatic immunity.

How can anyone think this is normal? After this incident, a New York Post columnist criticized Sorensen, writing, “Those high-minded folks from Scandinavia apparently have developed the world’s first self-nurturing baby.”

What garbage. Just because they’re not as paranoid as New Yorkers?

You know what I felt when I first read this story? Not anger. Not the right to instruct this woman. Jealously. I was jealous that Sorensen came from a place in this world where you didn’t have to worry about some creep running off with your kid.

I’d like to live someplace like that. I really would.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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