Thursday, May 10, 2007

Jade Sanders and Larmont Thomas: Murderers or Vegans on trial?

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?


kathz said...

This sounds more like a tragedy than a crime. The couple plainly needed support from someone sympathetic to veganism and aware of problems associated with the diet and very young children. There's a tendency to blame mothers for problems with breast-feeding. I had problems with breast-feeding both my children and occasionally was told this was because I'm vegetarian. Actually my mother, who is not vegetarian, had similar problems while many vegetarian friends breast-fed successfully. There were lots of fixed and contradictory ideas about how mothers should feed their babies - and quite a few people who thought that scaring new mothers was a good idea. It's really hard to work through that and decide what's best for a child, especially just after giving birth in the exhausting period of frequent feeds, insufficient sleep and vulnerability to infection. Add poverty to that and it's unsurprising if tragedies occur.

KateJ said...

An African-American friend told me that people of African origin are far more likely than Caucasians to have intolerance to dairy products, so might well choose to be vegan for reasons of their own health. He also said that dairy products in the US are stuffed full of hormones (illegal here in UK) which cause abnormal growth, arthritis and other problems. So this young couple may well have chosen to be vegan not purely as a 'lifestyle' choice or some point of principle, but for their own health.
Breastmilk is all their baby needed, but if the mother was unable to breastfeed or unable to produce sufficient milk (many, many possible reasons for this) then I can see how this situation arose. This young couple seem to have been doing their best, and were getting no support from anywhere. A tragedy indeed. Jailing them solves absolutely nothing.
Personally, I'm a vegetarian (not vegan). I breastfed my son successfully, he is now 18, a lifelong vegetarian, and very healthy.

Anonymous said...

While I believe your feelings on this matter are greatly articulated with what appears to be much understanding of the vegan culture, there are a few things I'd like to add.

You made a point concerning the prosecutors inability to understand the difference between "vegan" and "vegetarian". However during the trial it was that father that stated, "We're vegetarians; we are against animal cruelty, so why would I be cruel to my son?" (source: found it to be a strange quote from someone who claimed to be vegan. I know several vegans who would be quick to point out your error, if you ever described them as vegetarian.

I feel similarly to you in that the fact that they're vegan (or black or in Georgia) have very little to do with the situation.

Instead, I feel, they simply didn't have enough money or knowledge of their lifestyle to properly care for the child, and therefore, it was severe and costly negligence on their part.

Like you, I wish more questions were answered. Were they on government assistance? If not, was it available to them?

My boyfriend is allergic to milk(not lactose intolerant; ingesting a small amount could cause him to go into anaphylactic shock.) He could not have dairy milk, goats milk or even breast milk as a baby. Thankfully, there are formula alternatives, in fact Similac produces one, though costly, and they have since at least 1980.

There are options and alternatives out there... It's hard to know why they weren't taking advantage of them.

GayProf said...

There are a lot of unanswered questions. It is certainly plausible, though, that they lacked access to health care and/or had many reasons to be suspicious of the care they could attain. Finding a doctor sympathetic to vegans in Georgia who works with the uninsured would probably be quite a challenge.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Kathz: thanks for the info on breastfeeding - I think new mothers are given so much conflicting info it is amazing they do what they do.

KateJ: I wasn't aware the UK milk was different; why they were vegan remains unknown, but I agree, this seems more of a tragedy which is compounded by jail.

Anonymous: That is curious about the father - I tried to find the text of the case online, no go - I am wondering if he was told to "dumb down" veganism into something the jury could understand. Also, I don't think they were living in Atlanta as they had two prosecutors, I assume one for the county and one for the state - how available and affordable would milk free synthethic formula be in a small town in Georgia?

Gayprof: The problem I had with this case, besides that it seemed to be what they ate or did not which was on trial is that the charge and what they were convicted for was that they brought the baby to full term with the full intention of killing him - yet did not starve or dehydrate the child in the first few days but somehow decided to maliciously prolong it by giving the baby food (but not quite enough) and then think they would walk away under the "We're vegan's" defence. If someone was that calculating and cruel, they wouldn't have got to doctors after the child died, they would have just dumped it; there would be a record of torturing other children from foster service or animals - we are suppose to believe that these two came together to create a child to torture it by slow starvation with no motive, not even the pleasure out of seeing it happen? I cannot make the facts fit the why? Or the how? of the prosecutions case.

Anonymous said...

Aren't people offended by vegetarianism because on some level they know that eating meat is wrong? How can we know what happened unless we read the entire transcript of the trial as a basis for further investigation? I can't believe that there aren't tens of thousands of healthy children who were brought up vegan and thrive.

Anonymous said...

How interesting that you chose the photo of the baby as a newborn covered in clothing, and not those taken upon his death. A six week old baby at 3.5 lbs! If you look at the state the baby was in when he died it is inconceivable to imagine that the parents did not understand their son was unwell. This really is not a question of veganism, poverty, ignorance, etc. The rationalization of child cruelty and neglect in some of these posts is very troubling.

Anonymous said...

I agree, 3,5 pounds at six weeks is a baby that looks like a bag'o'bones, and is too emaciated to even cry. Also the output is bound to be meagre. All this should rise concern in any parent.

Thee Dirty ONE said...

First of all, unadulterated milk is readily available in the US.

Second, formula is available to poor folks through WIC, Women and Infant Children.

I know Vegans, and I know black Vegans from Georgia. These folks don't sound like Vegans. Can you say defense tactic? These folks, perhaps accidentally, starved a baby.

All of your interest in these diet issues obscures what I would call essential: Abject Poverty and Ignorance.

belledame222 said...


and yeah, ignorance: the thing is, if your baby is getting that thin, it might be time to bend the dogma a little. Maybe it wasn't deliberate--I don't know how they'd prove it--but it's negligence, certainly.

...god. what was that about "it takes a village?" There's no village for most kids; they're lucky if they have -one- responsible and capable adult.

and faugh, Carol Adams. I'm just steeling myself for that one to go spouting all over the femisphere; it's the only one that hasn't thus far, that I know of.

Anonymous said...

First of all, ignorance does not play in this at all. The mother stated she did extensive research while pregnant about infant nutrition. She used bad judgment in what the fed the infant, but that alone is not what killed the baby. The baby died of pneumonia as a result of malnutrition. The infant was not only sick, but it's body had little or no muscle or fat tissue left. Photos taken from one week after the infants birth showed a chubby-cheeked healthy infant. Five weeks later, the infant died of complications from starvation. Vegan or not, not enough food passed through the baby's lips to keep it alive. The mother did not make prenatal visits to the doctor, and the infant's only doctor visit was after it died. It was dead on arrival and the ER doctor said the baby had been dead awile because rigor mortis was already setting in. There is no excuse. This was murder.

Anonymous said...

There is a soy formula with no cows milk in it at all, it is called Pro Sobee and you can get it through WIC for free. I know this from personal experience. Being poor is not an excuse to not see a doctor that is what Medicaid is for. Being poor is not an excuse as to why you have no food, that is what food pantries are for, some that I've been to don't even ask for proof of income. Being poor is defiantly no excuse for not breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is free and while I can understand their fear of hospitals, why not go to a free breastfeeding support group or class? Is it possible their vegan beliefs prevented them from giving their child any animal product, even human milk? If they were intelligent enough to learn about the meat & dairy industry, then they were intelligent enough to realize that your baby needs breastmilk or formula.

Anonymous said...

There is a soy formula with no cows milk in it at all, it is called Pro Sobee and you can get it through WIC for free. I know this from personal experience. Being poor is not an excuse to not see a doctor that is what Medicaid is for. Being poor is not an excuse as to why you have no food, that is what food pantries are for, some that I've been to don't even ask for proof of income. Being poor is defiantly no excuse for not breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is free and while I can understand their fear of hospitals, why not go to a free breastfeeding support group or class? Is it possible their vegan beliefs prevented them from giving their child any animal product, even human milk? If they were intelligent enough to learn about the meat & dairy industry, then they were intelligent enough to realize that your baby needs breastmilk or formula.

Ile said...

This couple should have only been charged with involuntary manslaughter. Their ignorance and stubborness cause Crown's death. They did not intend to kill him. I feel that Lamont Thomas was "anit-establishment" meaning that he did not want any help from the government. That means that he would not get W.I.C. or Food Stamps. I bet that Crown was born premature, and was already skinny. Six weeks of apple juice would be detrimental to a premie especially if it was adult apple juice. Baby Juice is strained well to remove more solids. These people got a poor defense.I am new to the Atlanta area and I find people to be very ignorant,close minded,racist and classist. I would be afraid to go to court here. These unfair convictions are happening to put warm bodies into the Prison Undustrial Complex. Prison is Profit! The Malice Murder and Felony Murder convictions should be dropped against the couple. They should get the minimum of involuntary manslaugher with credit for time served.

Anonymous said...

proof once again that infants cannot be vegans

then again, there's also evidence that maybe adults shouldn't be vegan either (look into B12)

nren2k5 said...

It doesn’t really matter whether it was malice, or just priorities that were seriously, seriously out of whack. The fact of the matter is, these parents fatally neglected their child, and that can’t just go unpunished.

Anonymous said...

First, yes it is a parent's decision what to feed their child based on their knowledge or beliefs. Although a qualified health professional would have made suggestions on what was best for this infant based on MEDICAL principles, not beliefs. Just because this is Georgia, do not assume that everyone in Georgia is back woods, small town or prejudice. Second, they lived in Buckhead, which is a very affluential area of Georgia. There were and are numerous resources available for low to no income families but it is the family's responsibility to seek help. You can not force help, assistance or medical care on anyone. The aid that is available for little to no cost are WIC which would provide formulas (including SOY formulas which would give the infant the specific nutritional requirements they need) for free, as well as nutrition for the family. Peach Care or Medicaid, which would provide medical care such as prenatal visits, hospital care, pediatrician visits... but it sounds from the information listed that the family did not want this care, hence they had their baby at home. And last, it's not what they fed their baby, but the quantity. There are numerous SOY based formulas available, which they would have received for free had they mentioned they needed it. But health officals would not know to go to this persons home and just give them the help that was needed. That is why this is more a case of neglect. It is a parent's responsibility to seek medical attention for their children. They had to know this child was losing weight and starving. In their photographs, they do not look as though THEY were starving. Perhaps the police report mentioned the only "food" in the cupboards as a jar of apple juice because they were looking for infant food and not adult food. This is indeed a sad and tragic case, but it is also indeed a case of willful neglect.
I have a great deal of experience as a health professional in Georgia, dealing primarily in pediatrics. You would be very surprised at the amount of aid and help that is available, yet some parents just do not utilize it. You can decide why, it could be their low educational level (even though a high school education is free as well as two years of college in the state of Georgia with the HOPE scholarship), their beliefs, their laziness... either way, it is their responsibility.

Health Professional In Georgia