We Were Never Better Than This


There I was at my desk working my way through some pretty awful crime scene photos. A girl I once knew splayed out on the floor in a pool of blood.

They aren’t  the first crime scene photos I’ve seen. I’ve witnessed a bloated body floating down a river, seen the autopsy photos of a 3-year old  I knew and loved, and held in my hands the photos of a young boy shot by his step-father. I’ve even been on site when a man was shot and killed by police in front of his own children, children he’d taken hostage just hours prior.

It’s always more disturbing to see a person you once knew slain.

I have another photo of this young girl, upstairs in my files. In that photo she is just a toddler, sitting with her sister as her granny reads her a book. I remember the day that photo was taken as if it were yesterday. I was a reporter working on a story for the local paper. It is a sweet picture and it is the way I prefer to remember her, the girl now dead.  As awful as murder is, and as difficult as it was to make my way through the photos of that crime scene, it was not the worst thing that I had to confront today.

My own girls called, one of them in the middle of a panic attack. She was crying over all those migrant children. For several years now, my daughter has volunteered with a program that assists migrant children. She is working with them on their English skills, you know because all these folks who demand if you come to this country you must learn to speak English. (These are the very same people who travel to Mexico every year for vacation but never learn to speak a word of Spanish). Anyway, my daughter was distraught because she can’t help but think of how scared those migrant children must be.

Her twin sister called me later, equally as distraught. She is the mother of two boys, ages 3 and 5. Those boys have never even spent the night at our home without their mother present. She could not imagine in her worst nightmare someone forcibly taking her children away from her. I really believe she would die trying to prevent that. She was crying about those migrant children as well.

This story of forcibly removing children from their mothers is not a new one in our nation’s history. Seems like we’ve been forcibly removing children from their parents throughout much of our nation’s history. My friend Lisa Wingate wrote a disturbing story about a woman in Memphis who stole children from poor families to turn around and sell them to wealthy families in the blockbuster book – Before We were Yours. If you haven’t read it, do. My friend Michel Stone wrote an equally compelling book about an infant being taken hostage in The Iguana Tree and its follow-up, Border Child. Please do read these books. Both of these novels are based on true life events.

Black children, of course, were ripped from their families and sold into slavery. White Americans sold black children. Sold them. Many of those grieving mamas and daddies never saw their children again. This was all justified in the name of Jesus. Those doing the buying and selling claimed it was the righteous thing to do.


They quoted Scriptures. Talked about the ruling order of things, just like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, just like press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Spoke about how being black meant you were of a lesser value than a white child. Some people still believe this. Some people think we should still be slave owners. Some people still believe the white race is a superior race and that black people just aren’t as capable as white people.

They claim this is God’s intent.

They are full of shit.

Americans have ripped children away from their families during wars, too. Claimed it was the right thing to do, protect ourselves first. So we took American children of Asian descent and we locked them up in tent camps, just like we are doing now in Texas with brown-skinned children.

Lock them up. Lock them up. Lock them up.

That seems to be the mantra of the Republican Party these days.

The only reason this administration wants to keep dark-skinned people around at all is to cook and clean for them. I hope to God somebody is pissing and spitting in the drinks served to Donald J. Trump and his brood of merry racists.

Somebody kindhearted said that watching the migrant children locked up, wailing for their parents, wasn’t who we are as a people.

I know we are better than this, he claimed.

But the truth is, we are not better than this.

We have never been better than this.

Just ask any person of color.

Or any indigent person.

They have long known that they couldn’t trust people in power to do right by them.

Without question Trump is an evil man who thrives off the outrage of those he considers a lesser intellect than him – which is pretty much everyone. We should continue to call him out and resist him at every turn.

But the truth of the matter is that Trump is only a symbol of the bigger problem – too many Americans are every bit as evil and cold-hearted as Trump. Too many Americans think they deserve everything they have and fear that brown-skinned children are going to take it all away from them.

These people would sell your child and mine in a New York minute if they thought it would ensure them and theirs a more affluent life.

God help us all.

Please, God, do not forsake us, or the children whose cries we know you can’t help but hear.

And, please, God forgive us for not being a better people than this.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND: A novel (Mercer University Press).




Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

1 Comment


about 5 years ago

When FDR said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," he didn't know the half of what he was saying--nor did we. Just e-mailed two friends who are CASA's. Asked if they could round up about 5 million of their group to head to the Texas border and Washington, DC. Just read in this AM's newspaper a Washington Post story with findings of two studies on both legal and illegal immigrants. One, commissioned by the Texas Department of Public Safety, found that "native-born residents were much more likely to be convicted of a crime than immigrants in the country legally or illegally." Another study published in March in the journal Criminology considered population-level crime rates. It asked, "Do places with higher percentages of undocumented immigrants have higher rates of crime? The answer is a resounding no." But fear sells better than hope. Fear makes hatred logical, even benign. As the late Yemenite-Israeli singer Ofra Haza once asked in her song In the Middle East, "Does your country do what you believe in?" Good question. What do we believe in? If we wanted to address root causes of horrific violence south of our border and north of it, we would directly confront the USA's insatiable appetite for heroin and opioids. If we wanted to address root causes of the high numbers of refugees and migrants from all over the Middle East and North Africa, we might confront our own badly misguided and bungled interventionist wars. Which we waged out of fear. "MAGA," barked candidate Trump incessantly two years ago. And we sucked it up like dessert topping. Are we there yet? When it seems our greatest fear is truth itself, where are we?


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