by Dr. Boyce Watkins
People are confused and concerned about the case of Clifford Hall, a father in Houston, Texas. Hall was featured on MyFoxHouston.com this week as the dad who went to jail for child support, even though he doesn’t owe anyone anything.
“I’m his father it’s my responsibility to take care of him,” Hall said to the television network, referring to his son.
The father says that although he is happy to take care of his child, his support amount was changed without his knowledge. This led to legal problems of which he was not aware. He was, however, willing to take care of the matter once it was brought to his attention.
“I discovered for some reason his employer was withholding a large amount some weeks a small amount some weeks a zero amount some weeks,” says Hall’s attorney Tyesha Elam.
“I didn’t want to go to jail basically,” Hall said.
After finding out that he owed nearly $3,000 in child support, the man hurried and paid it back before he got into legal trouble. When he went to the courtroom of Judge Lisa Millard, he didn’t owe a penny to anyone.
“Opposing counsel testified twice that he’s all paid up,” says Elam.
The problem was that the court also wanted Hall to pay $3,000 in attorney’s fees. Additionally, it was revealed that Hall wasn’t following the court’s scheduled visitation times to pick up his son. Hall says that he knew nothing about the visitation times being changed.
That’s when Judge Millard gave Hall six months in jail.
Yes, six months.
“When she said I remand you to the Harris County Jail for 180 days my mouth just dropped,” said Hall.
After the odd decision was announced, Hall stated the obvious: It’s hard to be a father when you are locked up in jail.
“I can’t be there for my son in jail,” Hall says. “I can’t pay child support in jail. This is not in the best interest of the child.”
A civil rights leader out of Houston, Quanell X, is asking that the state’s judicial board investigate the case. I am asking for the same thing. This case should be thoroughly reviewed, and if it happens that Judge Millard behaved in the manner that the media has suggested, she should be disbarred and put in prison for her behavior.
The judge’s irresponsible handling of this case is reflective of exactly what happens in our legal system, particularly in states like Texas when African American males are held up as defendants. The court’s lack of value on human life can lead it to conclude that a hard-working, law-abiding father should be put in prison where he can’t work and can’t be with his child.
What is also interesting is the way the state feels that it can penalize Hall for the number of visits he makes to see his child, which is unbelievable. Can you imagine if mothers were incarcerated for not spending enough time with their kids, not being able to provide financially or leaving their kids at home alone while they go to work? It would destroy millions of families across America.
Six months in prison or jail can change a person’s life forever. Prison is the place where men are r@ped, beaten, and subjected to situations that serve as a breeding ground for the mental health and STD crises in the African American community. Those who’ve been placed in the system are also ostracized for life with the inability to get jobs with decent wages after their sentences are over. This economic strangulation is exacerbated by the fact that Hall is only going to fall even further behind in child support while serving time in prison working for slave wages.
So, instead of having a healthy and productive father who is determined to do the right thing, this boy’s primary role model has been turned into an ex-convict who’s been marginalized by society. This doesn’t make him a better dad and it won’t make his boy into a better son. If they’d have done this to my father, I would have been so angry that I would have considered giving up hope and breaking the law myself.
Please tell me, how much justice is there in this judge’s decision? As I said before, she should be disbarred and tried herself, taken away from her family and forced to endure a punishment no less severe than the one that she has given to Mr. Hall. But of course that won’t happen because she is a white woman, whose life is deemed to be more valuable than that of any African American mother, father or child who comes into her courtroom.
Judge Millard is from the same state as Judge Jean Boyd, who helped a teen evade jail time after killing four people. Boyd concluded that the teen was a “victim” of “Affluenza,” an artificial condition which states that, as a wealthy young person, he was unable to understand the consequences of stealing alcohol, getting drunk, getting behind the wheel and murdering four people.
Anyone who can understand the bubble print writing on the wall is able to make a connection between warped, apartheid-like decisions being made in courtrooms like this one and the highly disproportionate number of African American men in the criminal justice system. For courts like those of Judge Millard, preserving her procedure is more important than preserving a family. Protecting her ego matters more than protecting a child. So yes, this decision was as racist as they come, since I can’t imagine this judge presuming that she should have had her own father taken away under similar circumstances.
This is what we are up against: A fundamental devaluation of African American life and family that leads a judge to send a father to jail without consideration for what happens to his kids. Even if this man were behind on his child support, the goal should be to get him caught up, not to cripple him financially with the stigma and trauma of jail time.
What’s saddest aboutthis case is that there are thousands of others just like it. Systematic structures like this one have played a large part in the breakdown of the black family in America. Black men take most of the blame, since it’s easy to believe that we are animals who are incapable of loving our children as much as a white man. It is when the system sees you as less than human that judges are so willing to take a man from his family, the same way that a deer, bear or wild pig is shot when it’s children are nearby.
Black men have been stripped of their humanity.