Which child matters more: How Halle Berry’s testimony eclipsed SB 61 - Women's Foundation California


By AnnaJoy Gillis, Intern

The contrast was shocking and the situation all too familiar. On Tuesday, June 25, my colleagues and I watched as Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry testified before the California Committee on Public Safety. She was there supporting SB 606, a bill that aims to prevent the paparazzi from harassing children based on their parents’ occupation.

The presentation of the bill and the testimony produced a chorus of sympathetic comments and vocal support by committee members. They decried the frightening tactics of the press who hound small children like Halle Berry’s 5-year-old daughter, Nahla. A significant chunk of time was spent as reporters stood by, jostling for pictures of the celebrity testifying.

None of these events would have left me disgruntled if it wasn’t for the unequal treatment of the bill that immediately followed Ms. Berry’s—SB 61.

SB 61, a bill sponsored by the members of the Women’s Policy Institute, seeks to limit the use of solitary confinement on incarcerated juveniles—children under the age of 18. It places restrictions and standards on facilities to protect children from being locked up all alone, for days, as a punishment.

It is a bill that seeks to defend a vulnerable and forgotten population—a population without a celebrity champion.

The first person to testify in support of SB 61 was Ted Synder. Ted Snyder’s son spent 7 months in solitary confinement at the notorious “compound” in Sylmar. He watched as his son and other incarcerated children turned pale and  deteriorated mentally. He watched as his son and the other children began to self-inflict wounds and several attempted suicide.

Half way through Mr. Synder’s emotional testimony, the Committee Vice-Chair Melendez cut him off. Impatient and seemingly unconcerned with the topic, Ms. Melendez was ready to move on.

While Ms. Berry’s testimony had received uninterrupted time far beyond the usual allotment, Mr. Synder’s testimony would not be heard in full. Mr. Synder choked back tears as he struggled to conclude and convey the depths of his son’s suffering.

The ensuing debate was short. Advocates from almost a dozen organizations across the state lined up to deliver their respective names and affiliations in support of the bill. Within a couple of minutes a vote was taken. Five “Yes” votes and two “No” votes. SB 61 passed and is headed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

It was a victory for the team behind SB 61, but I kept on thinking: The bill Halle Berry testified for didn’t receive any “No” votes. It was given significant time, attention and press coverage. Why does a child being harassed and photographed rank higher in importance than another child suffering what the UN labels as torture? And why does a parent’s income determine a child’s worth?

The skewed attention given to these two bills reflects a frustrating pattern—some people are simply not getting a fair hearing and, more often than not, those are California’s most vulnerable populations.

Does it really take an academy award to make a problem matter?

Support SB 61: Sign this petition

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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