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Abstract

Jazmine Headley is one of many parents across New York City who depends on childcare benefits in order to work and to be the best single parent she can be to her one-year-old son. When her son’s daycare reported that it was no longer receiving payment from the city-issued childcare voucher, Jazmine’s only option was to take a day off of work to go to her local benefits center and figure out what was wrong. Making the trip to the benefits center meant that Jazmine had to miss a full day’s wage, and navigate the bureaucratic public assistance system, all while also attending to her son, who accompanied her to the benefits center because he was unable to stay at daycare. The wait times at the center were long, and all the seats were taken, so Jazmine and her son sat on the floor where they played quietly and waited. When a security guard approached her and told her to get up, Jazmine remained where she was, explaining that there were no seats available. Jazmine’s refusal to get up set into motion a series of events: the center’s security calling the New York City Police Department (NYPD), law enforcement violently ripping her son from her arms, the NYPD arresting Jazmine, a judge sending her to Rikers Island for five days, and her separation from her son. Jazmine’s story may have started because of her civil legal needs, but it is a story that reflects broader intersecting issues such as the criminalization of poverty, over-policing, the assault on Black motherhood and Black children, pre-trial detention, family separation, and so many more.

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