Sandy Banks: LA Times columnist
Tylette Davis gets a hug next to the casket of her son Dae’von, allegedly killed by her ex-boyfriend. Photo: Christine Cotter/Los Angeles Times
August 8, 2009 - I wrote about the death of Lily Burk last week because I couldn't stop thinking about the Los Feliz teenager who was doing an errand for her mother when she was abducted, killed and left in her car, parked near skid row.
But there's another dead child I can't get off my mind -- 6-year-old Dae'von Bailey, found beaten to death two weeks ago in his South Los Angeles home.
Lily's death unnerved me because it felt so random and unexpected. Dae'von's haunts me for the opposite reason: It seems, in hindsight, so predictable.
Police believe Dae'von was killed by his mother's former boyfriend, Marcas Fisher. Dae'von was living with Fisher because his 28-year-old mother "was going through things" and parceled out her six children to friends and relatives.
In the months before he died, Dae'von told adults at school that Fisher had punched him in the stomach and slammed his head into a bathroom sink. He repeated the complaints to social workers who interviewed him and to medical professionals who examined him for injuries. But he was sent back twice to his violent home.
Dae'von did what Lily could not: Screamed for help.
But his was such a very small voice, and his world such a very noisy place.
There has been plenty of outrage since Dae'von died, from showboating politicians and an angry, finger-pointing public.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors responded as it always does, calling for more oversight and tougher regulations at the Department of Children and Family Services.
But Dae'von didn't die because the rules aren't tough enough. He died because too many adults made stupid decisions -- choices that seem to me careless at best and callous as worst.
Now we need to find out who and how and why trained professionals dropped the ball. Who decided Dae'von would be safe at home with the man now being sought on a murder warrant? How could social workers dismiss his repeated claims of abuse as "unfounded"? Why did the nurse who believed he had been hurt fail to make a written report, as the law requires?
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas made a good first step last week by calling for an independent investigation to find out why no one "stepped forward to save this child."
Now he ought to go further and push for changes in confidentiality laws that keep the public in the dark and make children more vulnerable by limiting scrutiny and providing cover for agency screw-ups.
But it wasn't only the system that failed Dae'von. "I place the blame on the shoulders of mother Tylette Davis," a West Hills reader wrote in a letter published in The Times. "She chose to have these children, then she chose to abandon them and leave their care to others. I have trouble feeling any pain for Tylette."
County Supervisor Gloria Molina expressed much the same sentiment at a board meeting last month -- interrupting a speaker's monologue about the "gigantic, enormous problem that's within the system that needs to be rectified."
"Parenting services . . . bus tokens, housing assistance, mental health counseling . . . and constant supervision to maintain her house," Molina said, reading from the list of public services that had been provided to Tylette Davis since before Dae'von was born.
"You need to go back and sit down with this mommy and tell her she has other children to take care of. She has to get her house in order . . . deal with her issues," Molina said.
In the black community, outrage over Davis' perceived parental neglect "has been relentless," said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a civil rights activist who plans to host Davis this morning) at his Urban Policy Roundtable community meeting in Leimert Park.
"But just vilifying the mother doesn't help," he said. "It's easy to take that shot, but we have to go deeper . . . do some internal critical soul-searching among ourselves."
That's the emotional challenge of this case. How do we parcel out the blame among the man accused of killing Dae'von, the system that seemed to ignore his needs, and the mother who failed at mothering?
I began my soul-searching at the Compton home where Dae'von's grandmother Linda Dotson-Davis lives.
She greeted me from a corner of her tiny living room, reclining in a chair and covered by a blanket from her feet to her shoulders. A wooden ramp covered the steps out front. I sat down in the motorized wheelchair parked against the wall next to her and listened while she talked.
Until last month, three of Tylette's children -- 9, 10 and 11 -- were living with her; "doing fine," she said, taking swimming lessons, running track.
But when Dae'von died, social workers came and took them away. "They said my house was not appropriate," she told me. I looked around at the cluttered, crowded rooms, with roaches skittering along the wall and beds crammed into what used to be a garage and understood what the social workers must have thought.
"And that I had a child abuse history," she said. She lost custody of her own seven children back in 1985, "but I got them back that same year," she said. It took months of "no dirty tests . . . and I did it."
Her daughter Tylette is not a bad mother, "just spoiled," she said. She had her first baby at 14, and five more by the time she was 23. "She had good mother instincts," Dotson-Davis said, "but we never really made her responsible for taking care of them."
The man accused of killing Dae'von was the father of Tylette's youngest child "and the only daddy Dae-Dae ever knew," Dotson-Davis said. "He raised that child from when he was a baby. My daughter never thought he would bring that boy harm."
Now, Tylette's other five children are split between a network of relatives. And her mother is clinging to the hope that this tragedy just might be the catalyst to get the family they help they need.
She ticks off the things her daughter has to do to get custody of her kids:
Get treatment for addiction. Find a place to live. Come up with a way to support them. Make sure the children get counseling. And, finally, pass those parenting classes.
I hear her words, but what I feel is the sense of cluelessness that years of dysfunction tends to breed.
And my soul-searching leads me to believe that even after all the investigations and new regulations, the parenting classes and housecleaning lessons, the killer in jail and the social worker out of a job, we won't really have changed very much at all.