What WAS that Judge thinking? by Granny
April 1, 2012
Another African American baby has been murdered.
6-year old Khalil Wimes died on March 19, 2012. His death was the result of recurring physical abuse, neglect, and starvation meted out to him by his biological parents–Tina Cuffie and Floyd Wimes (aka Latif Hadi). Khalil’s death sentence began in 2008 when Philadelphia Family Court Judge Charles Cunningham ruled that Khalil should be returned to the parents, and not remain in the custody of Alicia Nixon, a cousin to the Wimes. Five other children were born from the Wimes’ union but had been removed for similar reasons of neglect.
Although Khalil was taken from the Wimes when there was confirmation of physical abuse, for some illogical reason Judge Cunningham placed Khalil back in harm’s way. If there’s a blessing from this tragedy, Khalil’s 3-year old sister living in the house at the time of his death is now in the custody of the Department of Human Services.
When he died Khalil weighed only 29 pounds, 16 pounds off the 45-pound weight for a child his age.
This is the second incident of a child’s death through neglect and abuse that has happened in a family I know. It’s horrific enough to learn of tragedies like this; but when it touches the lives of people we know it’s a painful burden we share with them.
I had the joy of meeting Khalil in the spring of 2008. At that time he was barely two years old and in the custody of Alicia and her husband. It was also a time when Alicia and family members were immersed in a futile attempt with Family Court to keep Khalil from being returned to his biological parents. Back then, along with my friend and colleague Andrew, we had visited LaReine Nixon in her Philadelphia studio and gallery. LaReine is Alicia’s mother. We were there to deliver a couple dozen newly silk-screened Obama T-shirts to LaReine, T-shirts born from a unique portrait she had created of then candidate Barack Obama. Shortly after our arrival Khalil came bounding in with Alicia, running on his little legs to LaReine shouting “Grandma!”
When I’d first heard about Khalil’s death, it brought back to me an image of that visit to LaReine’s studio. There was LaReine kneelng in front of Khalil and slipping one of the Obama T-shirts over his tiny frame. The shirt swallowed him, flowing down to the floor and covering his shoes. LaReine placed her hands on his shoulders. “Who’s this?”, she asked. Khalil grinned, tapped his hands on his chest and said, “Bama!”
Alicia and LaReine briefly described to us the Court struggle they were experiencing to keep Khalil from returning to his biological parents. They felt cautiously confident that the outcome would be in their favor. I prefer the phrase “biological parents” because in many instances, people like the Wimes can never be defined as a mother and father.
In some developing countries or Third World countries there are no Courts to make decisions regarding troubled children. Instead the decision is in the hands of the community. Yet again, in our developed nation the Court’s decision to place neglected, troubled, or abused children into a blood relatives’ home is the right thing to do.
In Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa she described how it was an accepted custom for children or youngsters, if difficulties or problems were prominent within the home; to move into the nearby home of a relative. The child would become an integral part of his/her new family.
In the Maasai culture when a child dies, the family can adopt a child from one of their close relatives. It could be the family of the wife or husband or possibly a child from any other extended family member. In exchange a heifer is given to the family who gave their child out for adoption.
Although it’s true that Family Courts and Philadelphia Family Courts are overwhelmed with neglect cases such as Khalil’s, I can’t help but wonder—What was Judge Charles Cunningham thinking? It was an egregious failure on his part to return Khalil to those heartless monsters, thereby robbing him of the love and safety and shelter from his Aunt Alicia and support from his extended family members.
Judge Charles Cunningham should do all future endangered children a favor and step down from the bench.
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