By Breanna Chico
The recent death of Noah Cuatro has left many AV residents angry and disillusioned with the systems put in place to protect vulnerable children. The circumstances leading up to Cuatro’s death echo those of Gabriel Fernandez and Anthony Avalos; signs of abuse were evident, they were reported, and then were seemingly ignored by The Department of Children and Family Services until the abuses escalated into fatalities. In response to the death of
Gabriel Fernandez in 2013, Assemblyman Tom Lackey proposed the first draft of what today is known as Gabriel’s Law (AB1450).
The bill would establish what Lackey describes as an “online database for cross-reporting crimes against children, allowing for child welfare departments, the district attorney’s office and law enforcement to share reports of abuse and neglect so that no child’s suffering gets overlooked.” It is true, as Lackey says that these children’s suffering went overlooked, though it isn’t the only thing these cases have in common.
It was revealed during the trial of Gabriel Fernandez that his mother and her boyfriend “called Gabriel gay, punished him when he played with dolls and forced him to wear girls’ clothes to school.” Similarly, in the case of Anthony Avalos it was reported that “days before his death Anthony apparently came out as gay. ‘I like boys’ he said.” Details from Cuatro’s case have not been revealed yet as an investigation is currently underway.
It is common practice for abusers to prey on those they see as weak or less deserving of respect than others. One could imagine sadists like the caretakers responsible for these boys’ deaths took any excuse to punish these children, with the idea that the violence inflicted upon them will make them into better, more manageable individuals. Punishments for feminine and queer traits in males is nothing new. There is in fact an entire psuedo-psychological practice known as conversion therapy that seeks to force queer and trans folk into changing their gender identity or sexual orientation.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and American Psychological Association, conversion therapy causes considerable harm on the physical, mental, and emotional health of the individuals subjected to it, some even take their own lives in the process, and yet in April 2018, while pushing for the passage of what is known today as Gabriel’s Law and two months before Avalos would be found dead, Lackey voted against an assembly bill that would prohibit consumer products advertising conversion therapy.
In May of the same year he also voted against AB 2945, which would authorize medicaid benefits for undocumented children. When Lackey says “children’s safety should be put first” I wonder which children he’s speaking of? No doubt undocumented children are victims of abuse, do they not deserve medical care for their wounds? The mental and physical abuse perpetrated in conversion therapy bares a stark resemblance to the scenes of torture and anti-gay rhetoric described by Fernandez’s siblings, yet the Assemblyman did not feel compelled to keep advertisements for this brand of therapy out of this community.
It is concerning that the Assemblyman would not take a chance to prevent children from being in harm’s way when the opportunity presented itself. His remedy for the emerging child abuse epidemic, an online database, has yet to pass in spite of multiple rewrites to the bill. Los Angeles County already has a system implemented in 2009 that links DCFS Protection Hotline with the District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and 45 other municipal police departments, and all city prosecutor’s offices. We know the problem wasn’t the powers that be not being aware of the situation but in their lack of action with regards to the situation.
Opposition to Gabriel’s Law states that the proposed bill “fails to specify which agencies will have access to the information contained in the proposed 58 county databases or how they are authorized to use the information, stating only that there will be information sharing ‘including but not limited to cross-reporting among the county welfare department, the district attorney’s office and local law enforcement agencies. Nor does the bill require that
implementation include safeguards against unauthorized access.” opposition goes on to say “A similar lack of safeguards and due process protections led to terrible due process violations and abuses regarding California’s statewide database of child abuse reports, the Child Abuse Central Index.”
As we saw with the search of Arbor Fields apartments in response to the recent sniper hoax perpetrated by Deputy Angel Reinosa in Lancaster, violations of privacy aren’t the way to stop or solve crimes, whether the crimes be real or fictitious. One must consider the power dynamics present in these situations. Why did these adults feel entitled to treat these children like their own personal punching bags? What examples of toxic masculinity, discipline, punishment, and dominance are at play in our community? Can a politician who regularly votes against the rights of vulnerable minority populations, children included, properly address a power struggle?
In the Assemblyman’s recent commentary, he said “How many more young people in our community need to be victimized before the Legislature acts?” A very good question indeed, how many more young people need to suffer because of Tom Lackey’s decision to let them suffer? To choose to not represent them, though he has been elected to do so. Commendable as it is that the Assemblyman has taken some steps to address this issue, it is evident that this bill is not the way forward. If he truly wishes to prevent more deaths such as these, he needs to empower the voiceless in his community and be an example for tolerance and empathy himself.
About the author: Breanna Chico is Civic Engagement Director for The Comedy Resistance.