There Must Be Thousands of Other Shaquan Duleys, But They Would Not Have Killed Their Kids
I saw this news in the morning during the CBS Early Show. Yeah, it does sound like Susan Smith. The Smith episode happened not 40 miles away from Orangeburg, South Carolina. However, I don’t think anyone (except those in the community) is crying out as much about the loss of two little black boy toddlers as they did about Smith’s white boy babies in the Nineties. There’s no scary black carjacker or a wealthy lover who wanted no stepchildren, either. And it may just be different times. Hard times.
Shaquan Duley, 29, after yet another argument with her mother Sunday about how she was shirking her parental responsibilities, drove her boys around 1:30 a.m. Monday to a local Trumps Inn. There, the manager/owner Renula Patel, thought Duley seemed “scary” and “nervous.” At daybreak, Duley drove the lifeless bodies of her young sons, Devean, 2, and Ja’van, 18 months down to the Edisto River, and then sent the vehicle into the water. She had murdered them just after she arrived at the motel.
My immediate thought: she probably was overwhelmed. She snapped. Sure enough, the subsequent news reports bear out the sequence of events that led to the tragedy.
According to the cops, after her cover story did not stand up (her clothes were dry; she ignored nearby houses to contact a driver 3/4s of a mile from the death scene), Duley finally ‘fessed up. She and the children had been living with her mother. However, she had recently been fired from her minimum wage job; she was estranged from the father(s) of the children; and the pressure of caring for three children alone finally told on her. She wanted her freedom. She wanted the nagging and the pressure to stop. There was no joy in being a mother anymore.
During questioning, the mother admitted that she smothered her children, Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry Williams said Tuesday morning.
“She would break down to some degree then get back to talking again,” said Williams, saying that Duley would have moments when she was totally calm and remarked, ‘I don’t know what got into me.'”
“The mom has been basically a good mom,” the sheriff said. “For whatever reason, this was her weakest moment.”
Details about Duley’s life are scant. Police say she was living with her mother and has another child, a 5-year-old, whom the grandmother is now looking after.
Williams described Duley as financially desperate, overwhelmed, a “young lady in trouble, in trouble in more ways than she realized.”
“She was a mother that was unemployed,” said Williams. “She had no way of taking care of her children.”
“We believe that her thoughts were for me to be free and to do what I wish to do, whatever that may be, if I didn’t have the children, I will get rid of them,” he said.
I definitely don’t like what she did; however, this is a cautionary tale about single women having children alone, without resources like other family or extended family and friends, or a career that will provide consistent work. Until it is proven that Shaquan was married at the time she murdered her boys, I am treating this story as one about a single black mother. Shaquan began having children, it appears, when she was about 24 years old. She may have been a “grown-ass” woman, but she still made some bad decisions that make her seem less adult or mature. Age ain’t nothing but a number in this case.
I’ve said in previous posts that some women–mostly lower middle-class women with little education or a way out–have children as a way of getting love or getting respect or self-affirmation, as if motherhood is a career choice. I’ve seen this with white, Latino and black women and girls, and as far as I am concerned, it is a disastrous choice. They need to stave off producing children and learn how to be mature adults making informed decisions without or with marriage. Because I believe that many children come into this world, into this American life, for the wrong reasons. Even after the children reach early adulthood, motherhood is still forever.
Eventually, as in this case, the mother comes to realize that children need more from her than she is able to give. That it is more than Happy Meals or trips to the zoo, but time, energy, food, clothing, daycare, schooling, medical care. And love is not enough. The mother eventually feels stuck and trapped (see Bristol Palin). Everyone is out having fun, except for her and the wailing baby and the toddler getting into the pots and pans. Depression results, and for some, other mental health issues develop.
And if the mother’s mother or other pivotal relatives are unable to give her daughter the emotional and financial support that she needs or constantly criticizes her options or her ability to care for the children, it bumps up the pressure. (Would Duley have been able to even go away and blow off a little steam from her troubles without hearing her mother’s mouth?)
Then comes abuse and neglect, and in the worst case scenario, children die.
I just wonder whether Shaquan’s mother had her as a single mother. I wouldn’t doubt that the grandmother now wishes she had held back for once. I wouldn’t be surprised if she is flashing back to a time when she wished she could walk away from Shaquan (and any siblings) or kill them. It’s not that moms don’t think things like this. They do. They think it but they always don’t do it.
I don’t like it that the grandmother has custody of the little girl, the eldest and last of Shaquan’s three children. This woman must have been on a daily tear against her daughter in a neighborhood filled with boarded up and abandoned homes and without hope. While she may have tried “to talk sense” into the younger woman, the negative, negative, negative reinforcement at home may have been too much for her to bear. Both, it appears, were either unemployed or underemployed.
Much has been made about Shaquan’s weight by racist as well as sizeist commenters at other blogs and websites. Other, more flattering photographs of Shaquan show her at happier times and weighing far less. With the loss of her job and the loss of her husband and home, she probably ate and ate to repress her anger and pain until her physical as well as her mental health were impaired.
Again, her mother should have recognized that her daughter was increasingly unable to rationally think and do for herself and that outside agencies should be called, rather than using her mouth to push her. The grandmother has been called “a firm individual,” meaning that she subscribed to old-fashioned values about child rearing, but it appears that those old-fashioned values–faith, family, community–failed in this tragedy.
I went to a local TV news station serving Orangeburg for some answers; the Duley family is distraught. As well they should be.
Her family spoke with News19’s Sharie Harvin Tuesday. They did not want to go on camera because they were too upset.
Shaquan’s mother, “Elaine,” says they are struggling to accept the reality of the situation as well as bury the two children, but they say prayer is helping them.
But their test of faith doesn’t end there.
Shaquan also has a five-year-old daughter that Elaine plans to raise. Elaine says she only wants for her granddaughter to know love.
At the Little Tots daycare, where Shaquan took her children, the daycare owner describes Shaquan as a woman who seemed like a good mother. She says Shaquan was excited about her children’s progress, even buying flash cards to make learning easier.
Now grandmother “Elaine” wants Shaquan’s daughter only to know love? I’m shaking my head at this.
Unfortunately, at this writing, the South Carolina social services department have no records of an encounter with Shaquan Duley or her children. That information may change in coming days. But why wouldn’t Shaquan or her mother have asked for their assistance? Was she that hemmed in or isolated that she could not at least attempt to go to the authorities for help? Something here does not add up.
There would have been no shame in giving up the boys and their sister for adoption or turning over custody. Better that than a murder rap. Shaquan Duley now will never be free. Sadly, it was also reported a few moments ago that the eldest of the boys, two-year old Devean, fought his mother as he was being done away with.
The authorities are also trying to ascertain the whereabouts of the father of Shaquan’s children and whether he had been present for their births. There may be more than one father for the children.
Lastly, I find it interesting that this story should surface when Faux Noise commentator Bill O’Reilly is having a highly publicized feud with Jennifer Aniston, actress and childless former wife of Brad Pitt over her appearance in a new film about single white women with careers and bank accounts choosing to have children alone. With the media, news like this is never a co-inky-dink. I’m sure that O’Lielly will make hash of this development, forgetting how race and class is going to excuse Aniston’s film, since it is not about Duley or any of her other emotionally-trapped and financially-desperate sisters. Nor will he separate fantasy from reality for middle-class women who make an informed decision to become mothers and experience few or none of the same problems as Duley.
And lastly, that O’Lielly or Aniston don’t care that there are thousands of Shaquan Duleys who are raising children alone after the husband or the lover has beat it, braving food stamp and other benefit cuts, going to food pantries, living in public housing or with parent(s) or with a girlfriend or relative who is in the same situation. They are ill-educated, ill-equipped, frantic, unhappy, and many times unable to see a way out. And they’re fodder for 24-hour cable stations who have ulterior motives.
I’m sure there will be more about this case in coming months. If I were the sheriff, though, I’d put Shaquan Duley on suicide watch. It hasn’t hit her; it really hasn’t hit her yet.