Should A Blunt And A Minor Traffic Violation Cost You Your Kids?

Democratic lawmakers in Tennessee are demanding that the Department of Child Services return the five children they took from a Black Georgia family traveling through the state back in February after the parents were told in a juvenile court hearing on Monday that the state would not be returning them for the time being. The children — a breast-feeding infant and 2-, 3-, 5- and 7-year-old kids — have been in state custody for over a month ever since their parents were charged with misdemeanor possession of five grams of marijuana and a blunt.

On February 17, Bianca Clayborne and Deonte Williams were traveling with their five children from Georgia to Chicago for a funeral when they were pulled over in Tennessee by a police officer for “dark tint and traveling in the left lane while not actively passing."

Wanting to be safe, in light of the way traffic stops often go for Black people, they pulled into a gas station parking lot rather than on the side of the road. Immediately, the cops demanded Williams get out of the car and go sit in the back of the police cruiser, while Claybourne and their children were escorted into the gas station while the cops tore through their vehicle, even bringing around "drug sniffing dogs" to smell all of their bags and possessions the cops had taken out of the car ... which cannot possibly be the usual protocol for pulling people over for "traveling in the left lane while not actively passing." Okay, clearly we mean cannot as in must not, because unfortunately it very much is.

Drug sniffing dogs, by the way, are not a real thing. Like, yes, they can "smell drugs" but there's no way to tell what a dog is reacting to or why it is doing whatever it's doing, because it's a dog and it can't talk. It's all up to the interpretation of the handler, which tends to be pretty unreliable.

The cops, however, did find a blunt and about five grams of weed, which seems like a medium amount of weed to have on one's person.

So the cops drove off to the police station with Williams and Clayborne and her children followed after, assuming they would get things taken care of and be on their way to Chicago. They got to the station's parking lot and were immediately approached by two Department of Child Services (DCS) workers and a trainee, one of whom asked Clayborne if she has family in Tennessee.

“I asked why and she said it was because I’m taking your kids,” Clayborne told the Tennessee Lookout. “I was like, what for? Because I’m not understanding this. I said I haven’t been smoking. I said I breastfeed my kid.”

Cut to: Six hours later.

“The mother became very defiant and locked herself and the children in the vehicle,” court records said. “Officer Crabtree then placed spike strips around the vehicle so the mother would not leave the premises.”

Eventually a bunch of cops came out and circled around the family, clearly scaring the crap out of the children.

“Then my baby started crying so I reached for my son, and as I’m reaching, a man held me and told me, ‘don’t touch him. He’s getting taken away from you,’” Clayborne said.

The other cops grabbed the other children and brought them inside and refused to give Clayborne or Williams any information about what was going to be done with them. While she had been waiting, DCS had placed an "emergency order" to put the children in state custody, claiming that they were being neglected.

Six days later, Williams and Clayborne came back to the station to take urine tests, with Williams testing positive for marijuana and Clayborne testing negative. Clearly these were not the results the cops wanted, so they did a rapid hair follicle test which magically produced positive results for "methamphetamines, fentanyl and oxycodone in both parents."

Hair follicle tests are notoriously inaccurate — and the darker your hair is, the more inaccurate they are likely to be. The particular test used in this case is not even admissible in court because it produces too many false positives and is not administered by actual lab technicians, but by random people who work in the court building.

Still, the test results made the DCS workers decide to deem the children not only "neglected" but "severely abused." Of course, no one else can examine the drug tests, because they threw them out immediately afterwards.

Both parents are, understandably, traumatized and furious — and we don't even know how traumatized their tiny children are. Again: It has been over a month since they were seized. Clayborne says she's not even producing milk, which is not a good sign. Williams is on the verge of bankruptcy due to the legal proceedings and travel costs.

Via Tennessee Lookout:

He said he was furious the state had “kidnapped” his children — an attitude that DCS has since cited in limiting his access to his children because supervisors of the visits felt threatened, DCS emails reviewed by the Lookout said.

In addition to claims of severe abuse, DCS’ petition — filed a week after the children were taken — also say “the children made disclosures about the father being the ‘Weed Man.’”

The Feb. 23 DCS petition says that “they then showed (a caseworker) how to roll a joint and stated that the parents take them with them to ‘sell the weed.’”

“It’s absolute lunacy,” Williams said in an interview this week. “There’s nothing like that. We never put things like that around the kids; we love them.”

Well that all sounds very believable. What's next? Will the children reveal that they conducted child sacrifices in tunnels underneath their home? This is an odd thing to say, but after years of researching the Satanic Panic, I have a really strong ear for what it sounds like when kids make things up to appease CPS workers, police or psychologists, and this fits the bill. No one is calling anyone "the Weed Man," least of all to their children. No one says "C'mon kids, let's go sell the weed!" That's ridiculous.

Let's just break down what the cops actually have on these people, shall we?

  • Tinted windows
  • Driving in the left lane without passing
  • A blunt
  • 5 grams of weed
  • One positive urine test for marijuana, which is legal in 21 states and decriminalized in 10 more.
  • Two extremely unreliable hair follicle tests that are not admissible in a court of law
  • Some extremely suspicious sounding child interviews.

When they initially took the kids, they only had the first four. These are not reasons to take anyone's children, especially children who are not even residents of that state. The first two aren't even a good reason to search a car or put someone in the back of a police vehicle. I'm not even certain that they are good reasons to pull anyone over in the first place. I didn't even know the left lane thing was something you could be pulled over for.

You do not take people's children and keep them in a state where they do not live over any of these things. It's deeply, deeply traumatizing.

Studies have repeatedly shown that not only do routine traffic stops not make us safer in general, they are not even the most efficient way to deal with speeding and other traffic-related issues. A 2022 study determined that police have killed nearly 600 people at these traffic stops since 2017. At this point, we have the technology to just send people tickets to their homes for minor traffic infractions and reserve actual traffic stops for people who are clearly threatening public safety and should stop driving immediately. Which is not the case with people driving around with tinted windows or spending too long in the left lane.

"I just have to believe if my clients looked different or had a different background, they would have just been given a citation and told you just keep this stuff away from the kids while you're in this state and they'd be on their way," the family's attorney told the Lookout.

She's not wrong.

The state is now looking to prosecute Williams and Clayborne for speaking out publicly about the incident and "breaking court confidentiality rules" — because apparently they are supposed to be allowed to steal people's children in secret.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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