This has been the unfortunate theme running through my head as I watched the “Poppa Love” Speights saga unfold in recent weeks on the Tampa news. Speights came to the attention of police years ago, when his young daughter reported being repeatedly raped — and threatened — by him. But despite his lengthy police record (30 arrests) and the young woman’s testimony, prosecutors felt they could not convict Speights at the time. A year later, the police had proof that Speights was a child rapist when another, even younger girl gave birth to his baby: she had been 12 at the time Speights impregnated her, and DNA matched him to the crime.
But that was two years ago: since then, a judge granted Speights bail to await his trial for child rape, and he apparently returned to the household where he had raped and impregnated the young girl and where a dozen or more other minor children still resided. His mother, wife, aunt, and several of his own children supported Speights, so it is reasonable to assume that he remained in contact with many other potential child victims, either with or without the permission of child protection authorities. His bail was not repealed when his trial began, and Speights absconded two weeks ago when it began to dawn on him that he might not walk away from the latest charges, as he had done literally dozens of times after arrests in the past. He was convicted in absentia and recaptured after an expensive manhunt.
Yet despite all this, despite raping and impregnating a child and fleeing a courtroom and being featured on America’s Most Wanted, Speights still believed he could game the system: he asked the judge yesterday for house arrest for the child rape and seemed genuinely surprised when Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe ordered life in prison instead. Is Speights crazy, or are we crazy?
I say we’re the crazy ones. Speights was merely reacting logically to a situation he had experienced dozens of times in the past.
For, until yesterday, the state has never really held Speights responsible for anything, from serially abandoning children, to breaking dozens of laws, to committing heinous sexual crimes. Despite his extremely lengthy arrest record, he has never served state time. Despite fathering more than 30 children and apparently having no legal employment (none was reported in the news), he was still living with approximately a dozen of his offspring in housing doubtlessly subsidized by taxpayers, who also doubtlessly subsidize the dozen or so other women who have filed paternity charges against him over the years. Despite being accused of child rape twice, and fleeing custody once, he was permitted to bond out of jail in 2008 and remain free for two more years, as taxpayers also paid to prepare his defense. Despite being identified as the father of an infant conceived in a child rape that took place in the presence of other minor children, he was apparently permitted to return home to those children (I say apparently because nothing was reported about restrictions placed on Speights when he was released to await trial).
It isn’t accurate to say that Speights tried to hide his crimes: a man who names himself “Poppa Love,” and tattoos his name on his girlfriends and girl children cannot be said to be trying to hide anything. And despite their unruly protestations in court, his mother and current wife and aunt and assorted girlfriends cannot really pretend that they didn’t know about his behavior, not when he has had a dozen paternity charges filed against him and multiple domestic violence charges, and other child rape charges. These women knew, and they too should be held responsible for recklessly endangering children. Speights even tried to pin the child rape on two of his own sons.
The obscene spectacle of a child rapist with 30+ children claiming in court that he is a good, responsible father who allegedly “puts food on the table” and “presents under the tree” is only exceeded by the grim spectacle of a court system and child protection system that either could not or would not prevent him from doing more harm a long time ago.
Speights is the rapist, but we’re the ones who failed to protect his victims, all the while literally subsidizing his crimes.