Lawyers and members of the Tennessee Democratic Party are suggesting that racism played a significant role in removing five children from the custody of their parents, who were assessed misdemeanor charges following a routine traffic stop.
The case began on February 17, when Bianca Clayborne, Deonte Williams, and their five children, ranging in age from 4 months to 7 years old, were driving from Georgia to Chicago to attend the funeral of Clayborne's uncle. During the trip, the couple was pulled over by a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper in Manchester, Tennessee, about 65 miles southeast of Nashville. The trooper initiated the traffic stop because of tinted windows and driving in the left lane without passing.
The trooper then allegedly detected marijuana, searched the vehicle, and discovered five grams of the drug. Williams was placed under arrest. Clayborne and the couple's five children followed the police cruiser to the local jail, where Williams was to be processed.
About a week later, both Williams and Clayborne were tested for drugs, first a urine test, followed by a hair follicle test. Williams reportedly tested positive in both cases. His urine test allegedly showed traces of THC, while the hair test came back positive for fentanyl, methamphetamines, and oxycodone. Clayborne's urine sample came back negative, but her hair follicle test allegedly also showed traces of fentanyl, methamphetamines, and oxycodone.
Both parents denied using those substances, but the tests reportedly prompted officials to charge both Williams and Clayborne with simple possession, a class A misdemeanor. They are scheduled to appear in court on March 20.
After its own investigation, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services alleged that the children had suffered neglect and abuse at the hands of their parents, and a subsequent emergency court order sent the kids to foster care. A family relative who lives in the Nashville area has since assumed the role of foster parent for all five children.
But some lawyers and politicians have drawn public attention to this case because, they say, it represents the racism that black parents routinely experience at the hands of the state.
"I want people to know what they’re doing to black people in these small towns behind closed doors," said Courtney Teasley, an attorney representing the family to the public but not in the case against DCS or in Williams' drug case.
Teasley also alleged that the court had targeted her for speaking out against an unjust system. "A retaliatory motion has been filed in an effort to stop me, their personal family lawyer, from telling the world about how they are oppressing black people under the guise of confidentiality," tweeted Teasley, who calls herself a "ProActivist" and includes hashtags for "disrupt," "dismantle," and "demand" in her Twitter profile.
"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," added Jamaal Boykin, another attorney representing the family.
Boykin and Teasley aren't the only ones alleging racism played a role in the case. Several Tennessee Democrats have denounced the actions of law enforcement and DCS and pleaded that DCS reunite the children with their parents.
"Give them their children back," demanded state Sen. London Lamar (D-Memphis). "It's borderline discrimination because, if this was any other family, as their attorney said, we don't even think this would be the outcome."
"It is outrageous that the state forcefully separated Bianca Clayborne, a breastfeeding mother, and Deonte Williams from their kids and have allowed this to continue for nearly a month," added Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis). "The state exercised extreme and flawed judgment in taking their children, and it seems they’ve doubled down on this poor decision."
However, Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott suggested in a statement that these lawyers and politicians were cherry-picking facts so that they could adjudicate the case "in the court of public opinion."
"Certainly, there are more facts and circumstances that exist that the defendants have chosen not to disclose during their efforts to try this matter in the court of public opinion and the realm of politics," the statement said. "My office will only try this matter in the criminal court of law."
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