The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

America doesn’t care about its kids. The evidence is all around us.

Children gather for a memorial service honoring the victims of Dayton’s mass shooting, in Springfield, Ohio,
Children gather for a memorial service honoring the victims of Dayton’s mass shooting, in Springfield, Ohio, (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

America is failing its children.

Future generations will look back at how we treat our kids and be appalled at the way we kept them in cages, refused to protect them from sexual predators and drilled them on how to behave when a gunman hunts them down.

The collective news from just this week is a searing indictment of adult indifference.

● In Mississippi, hundreds of children were left wandering, hungry and in tears after ICE arrested their parents in a sweeping raid that took 680 people suspected of illegal immigration into custody but made zero plans for their children.

In Mississippi, devastated children are searching for their parents

● At a news conference in Kansas City, Mo., the woman believed by many to be the greatest U.S. gymnast in history, Simone Biles, teared up as she remembered the sexual abuse she suffered while the organization that was supposed to keep her safe — USA Gymnastics — refused to believe her and the other girls who told them their team doctor Larry Nassar was a sexual abuser.

● In Pennsylvania, lawyers announced a new lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America that claims to have uncovered at least 300 more cases of sexual abuse, cases where adults covered up for other adults, shushing and tiptoeing around while children were victimized in heinous and depraved ways on campouts and retreats.

● In D.C., a girl testified that she was sexually abused by a local Catholic priest, calling it “gross” and “disgusting” and said “it hurt.”

● More than 80 kids who had been trafficked for sex were finally recovered by the FBI in a sweeping, nationwide operation.

● Jury selection was underway in Los Angeles in the trial of a Disney music executive accused of sexually abusing two young girls.

● A Florida school district voted to require their students to undergo active shooter drills every month.

● Three words: kids in cages. At least 900 of them have been separated from their parents in the year since a judge ordered an end to the separations, according to an ACLU lawsuit. The last time we detained huge swaths of an American population — the deplorable Japanese internment camps of World War II — the government kept children with their parents.

● And one name: Jeffrey Epstein. Not only is he accused of trafficking girls to his “Pedophile Island” to cavort with the rich and famous, America keeps calling his victims “young women” — rather than “children.”

He coached a football team with 28 players. Only five are alive today.

And all this doesn’t include the daily grind of shootings (2,240 children 17 and under killed or injured by gunfire in America this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive), gross child abuse and neglect cases, the tabloid parade of weird custody battles and adult abdication of responsibility.

I’m talking about the way American systems — schools, religions, sports organizations, corporate America, government — routinely fail to protect our most valuable asset.

“It’s like, ‘Did you guys really not like us that much that you couldn’t just do your job?’ ” asked Biles, one of the world’s tough, determined, strong and poised athletes.

“We had one job [winning Olympic gold],” Biles said. “You had one job; you literally had one job, and you couldn’t protect us!”

Maybe you want to point to the 300 million children worldwide who live on less than $1.90 a day, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Brookings Institution, and argue that our kids here have it pretty good.

You may look around and see kids with iPhone Xs and Gucci backpacks. Maybe your fancy-pants dinner was ruined by screaming kids in $800 strollers, and it may seem like American kids are indulged and spoiled.

But the United States has some of the highest child-poverty rates among developed countries. About 15 million of our kids live below the poverty rate, and about 40 percent of them will experience at least a year in poverty before they turn 18.

But that’s not what I’m talking about, either. A childhood of poverty doesn’t mean a childhood of misery. Plenty of well-adjusted, happy adults grew up in loving homes that struggled to make ends meet.

This is about the government and church officials who’d rather cover their butts than protect a child from abuse. It’s the dogmatic supporters of partisan slogans who put cruelty over humanity.

It’s the people who’d rather put the onus of children’s safety from gun violence on them, rather than taking actions to create a safer world.

It comes back to a proverb with a debated provenance, but a sound principle: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

We’ve stopped planting those trees, and we will pay a terrible price for it.

Twitter: @petulad

Read more Petula Dvorak:

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He coached a football team with 28 players. Only five are still alive.