A little over two months ago a tragic event occurred when a mother murdered a Child Protective Services investigator. It was not just tragic for the person murdered, for every time a human dies a library is lost. It was not just tragic for the parent, who in desperation found that killing someone was the only way out. It was not just tragic for the child, who was stuck in a violent foster care system and now must live knowing that they will never have a chance to be reunited with their parent. It’s also tragic that the system that we live in inevitably leads to such barbaric actions.
Jody Herring’s 9 year old daughter was taken from her by Vermont’s Department of Children and Families – their version of CPS. Vermont’s family court system has been a perpetual hell hole for parents for decades. Recently a new change was enacted by the Vermont DCF policy to tighten up the system even more- this occurred after two kids died under DCF care. Regarding the changes, the DCF commissioner put it “our goal is not reunification.”
Lara Sobel was the lead investigator in Jody Herring’s case, and she received two bullet holes as a result. Jody not only shot Lara, but also three of Herring’s relatives who were accused of repeatedly reporting Jody to DCF. There is little information available about the DCF case, and as a result I will not make any judgments on Lara’s parenting skills. Rather, I want to discuss the ethics and emotions behind such actions.
I am not a parent, and I have no idea how painful it is to lose a child. I can hear their stories, I can be a part of a system that causes it or prevents it, but I will never know the sorrow that parent has. In the family court system, that sorrow is being exacerbated due to the unknowable restrictions that they place on parents using the threat of force. Today a family will be destroyed because an investigator found out a parent used marijuana. Tomorrow another family will be destroyed because a child played outside. Time and time again this system is destroying life after life.
When I first heard of this incident I was inundated with emails asking me if the parent was in the right. Within my ethical paradigm—similar to most libertarians—I view the non-aggression principle as the only consistent ethical position that everyone can follow. Simply put, the non-aggression principle proves that it is unethical for any individual to use force on another human being or their property.
If we lived in a just world—free from coercive organizations like the state—an intruder coming into a parent’s life and removing their child and placing them in danger is a violation of the non-aggression principle. As a result, the mother would be in the right for using any means to stop the intruder. We don’t live in a just world though. We have cops, soldiers, bureaucrats, and more paid through theft. There are hundreds of thousands of people imprisoned for victimless crimes. Children are place in foster homes when a parent did nothing wrong. We live in the biggest empire in the world.
In a state of confinement, ethics move from black and white and into a gray zone. I am not making the case that there is never a correct time to use force against the state. When a cop holds a gun to your head and tells you he’s going to kill you, it would be impossible for me to say it’s wrong to defend yourself. In the society we presently live in, actions become judged from a consequentialist perspective rather than an ethical one.
Lara’s actions will not lead to a reunification with her child. It will lead to her being placed in a cage while her child’s life continues to be destroyed. No doubt her child will likely blame herself for the actions of her mother, which is common in cases of parental/domestic violence. It will not lead to fewer removals of children in the future; instead it will solidify the “violent nature of parents” in the mind of the media and the state. If Lara wanted her and her child’s life to be worst, then killing the investigator was the best thing she could have done. This is not a moralistic judgment—it’s a simple fact.
Tragedies like this will continue while Child Protective Services exists. The only reason this hit the news was that the person attacked was higher within the social hierarchy. If it was simply another child being drugged by a foster home, another parent’s life destroyed due to mis-allegations, or a father killing himself after his parental rights were terminated, there wouldn’t have been a single news story about it. All of those events fall within the status quo that we live in. The horrendous actions done by the state are rationalized, and when non-state actors use violence society lambasts them.
There is no more dangerous religion than government, and its continued faithful backing will lead to more deaths of its proponents and opponents. This does not have to continue, but there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Until that day comes, the ethical implications of violence against our captors will lie in a consequentialist zone that’s nearly impossible to decipher. Sadly this is the nature of the relationship between government and man.