Can two black poor vegans get a fair trial in Georgia? The vegan couple, Jade Sanders and Lamont Thomas, were found guilty and will be sentenced to life in prison yesterday for Malice Murder, Felony Murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty to children for the death of six week old baby, Crown Shakur. The Atlanta Prosecutor, Chuck Boring, argued that the couple, in feeding their child apple juice and soy milk supplemented with breast milk were not trying to be vegans but had intentionally planned to starve their son to death; “"He just was not fed enough. They're not vegans. They're baby-killers.”
What happened? The baby named Crown Shakur is reported as a home birth, a water birth in the bathtub and that the parents did not take the child to a hospital because they feared they were full of germs. The child wasn’t taken to see a doctor until complications from malnutrition arose and the child died. The house, according to prosecution did not have food in the cupboards and only one container of apple juice. Does this mean the couple have no money. The father, Lamont, says they do not. The case of the prosecution and prosecutors is that the couple intentionally and deliberately starved their child to death and used the term vegan to escape prosecution. This is not supposed to be a case about whether the couple were vegan. However, in his comments, the prosecutor calls veganism a “lifestyle”, and Chuck Boring along with the other prosecutors seemed unaware of the difference between being vegetarian and vegan, lumping the two as virtually the same (Vegans traditionally only eat products from plants and comprise 1% of the US population or less) "No matter how many times they want to say, 'We're vegans, we're vegetarians,' that's not the issue in this case,"; Fulton County prosecutor however stated regarding the use of alternative milk; "Had the child received breast milk, had the child been adequately fed, he would be alive,"
Were the parents doing this with malice? The grandmother, Carolyn Thomas stated that their choice of soy milk and apple juice was based on their beliefs, “"They did what they thought was right," It seems hard to imagine a multi-generation plot of baby starving. The father stated their vegan beliefs would negate the possibility of intentionally harming their son; "Why would I do something with his body? We are against animals being murdered, why would we be cruel to him and try to do something to his body?”
As a baby, much like this one, I was deliberately NOT fed breast milk, which the prosecutor implies is a form of deliberate cruelty and starvation. This was because some doctors actually advocated this to mothers during the time period when I was born, and according to accounts I was given skim milk; this is currently NOT recommended (I was also not often taken to doctors even when ill due to religious beliefs – so for me, what happened with Crown is a sad tragedy, but it doesn’t seem particularly alien or unthinkable). However, today the feeding of infants is still hotly contested, particularly regarding vegans. Professor Linsey Allen says that children MUST have meat and are harmed by a vegan diet. She claims that a mother adhering to a vegan diet will have a unusually small child which will be malnurished. On the other hand, her research was done on human children in Africa, and paid for partially by the Cattleman’s National Beef Association. The Vegan society disagrees but has no clear clinical studies.
Was this incident incredibly unfortunate? Yes. Also because, according to their defence, the apple juice they were feeding Crown was acting as a diuretic and blocking the absorption of nutrients from the soy milk. Essentially, what they were feeding was, unknown to them, blocking Crown from getting the other food they were giving him.
I have to wonder if a jury of twelve people, faced with a (poor) black couple in Georgia, would be able to tell the difference between a sincere fervent desire to adhere to vegan (which can be religious in intensity) and what, they might, considering their own beliefs, see as odd, unusual, a “lifestyle choice” or simply cruel. Or would they be more likely to believe the prosecutors that their vegan statements were just a “ruse?” To many, a strong vegan belief seems alien. For example, could a vegan truly believe that exploitive sex trade and eating meat would be the same: “The meat industry teaches us that cows and pigs and fish exist solely to bring delight to our taste buds and satisfaction to our bellies. In patriarchal culture, the bodies of women and the bodies of animals exist to be consumed.”, or that they became vegan only through the grace of God; “It shows up around food these days too. It’s hard not to judge what other people put in their mouths. It’s not the “don’t they know that will make them fat” judgment, it’s the “don’t they know how that sausage was made” judgment. It’s the “don’t they understand how much pleasure they’re getting from another creature’s suffering” judgment. Sometimes, particularly when I myself am tempted by meat, I find myself flooded with a temporary but intense hostility to those who “don’t get it.”… Jesus calls us to live lives of love and justice. I’ve come so far in terms of working to embody that justice in my day-to-day life, in how I eat…God’s grace was poured out on me. I am no better than they, and though I can try and model a different way to think about sex and food..”
No, that’s not from the couple on trial, that from a very successful (white) professor in California. Do you think he would want his baby to be vegan? I think if I believed that passionately about something, I would consider it my duty if it did not believe it interfered with my child’s health. And I think this couple did too(no, not vegan, in case you wondered, not even close - plus my father in law is a beef farmer).
I do wish we had more of the story; were there prenatal visits, was the family doctor aware of their beliefs, or could they, like many Americans, simply not afford a doctor? And if their house had no food, how were the couple themselves eating? If the prosecution is saying the house had no food except juice for the baby; then were the couple not feeding the child and starving themselves? While I think that there is negligence or lack of due diligence in taking the child to a doctor, or seeking more information when weight began to drop, it does not seem that even the prosecution believes they are deliberate murders; in which case this is a double injustice of a couple losing a child and having to spend life in prison because people don’t understand, or perhaps don’t wish to tolerate the values of vegans (since the values themselves imply that those in the jury, simply by how they eat and feed their own children are themselves guilty of cruelty). It seemed even the Judge had a preconceived view on them and their vegan beliefs as the mother, Jade, at sentencing asked the judge to look past his “perception” of the couple.
The prosecution says vegan beliefs hid deliberate murder and cruelty, and the reason we know that is because the mother did not breast feed enough, that they used soy milk instead of formula. Except that the accusations of murder arose BECAUSE the couple acted in a manner consistent to a personal interpretation of vegan belief. Home birth is not typical, water birth is not typical, believing hospitals have germs to harm babies is documented fact, but not taking a baby there anyway is not typical, not solely using breast milk is not typical, trying to feed a vegan diet to a baby is not typical. Having a black couple in Georgia being vegan is NOT typical. But does that really mean it is deliberate, calculated cruelty to children in a form of malice murder? So in the end, what exactly was on trial and how much did "perception" alter this trial?
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