Shaniya Davis, Dead at 5, a Story Nearly as Ugly as the Movie Precious

9 years ago

CNN and bloggers report that the body of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis of Fayetteville, NC, has been found. Earlier today 200 people searched for the child's body after police received a tip that she was dead, say news sources.

Police have charged the girl's mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, with trafficking and other offenses, authorities said. Davis was "prostituting her child" ...

... The mother told police last week that the child vanished from their mobile home in Fayetteville.

Hotel surveillance video taken around the same time Shaniya was reported missing showed the girl with a man identified as Mario Andrette McNeill. He was charged with first-degree kidnapping.(CNN)

The Hinterland Gazette, a blog of black political thought, also posted on this sad story. Shaniya, a biracial child, black mother/white father, had been missing since November 10.

That's her mother's mugshot to the left. McNeill, her boyfriend, who is also black, has a similar look. He confessed on Friday to kidnapping Shaniya, per CBS News. Janet Shan at The Hinterland Gazette wrote the mother and boyfriend should be waterboarded, and that was before Shaniya's body was found.

From the Charlotte Observer:

Shaniya's father, Bradley Lockhart, told The Associated Press that he raised his daughter for several years but last month decided to let her stay with her mother.

... Shaniya had only been living with her mother since last month. Davis reported the girl missing Tuesday morning from a mobile home community in Fayetteville, and authorities began searching nearby wooded areas. The following day a man described as Davis' boyfriend was charged in the kidnapping, but the charges were later dropped and he was released. Charlotte Observer/Associated Press.

At last week I posted my review of Sapphire's novel Push on which the movie Precious is based. It's in part the story of a black girl being sexually abused and more by her parents, both her mother and her father. With the release of the movie, some black folks are up in arms that black people would be portrayed this way, as though amongst black people are only angels, no demons ever.

Both Laina Dawes and Megan Smith have covered how black people respond to negative images, bickering down to the finest points even such as why Ms. Rain, the savior school teacher, becomes light-skinned in the movie when she was dark-skinned with dreadlocks in the novel.

Oh, how I wish more than ever now that director Lee Daniels had made Ms. Rain dark with dreadlocks in the movie Precious as Sapphire makes her in the novel. Seeing the picture of Shaniya's mother, I wish Antoinette Davis could have been a Ms. Rain and not what seems like a dreadlocked, skinny version of Mary Jones, the abusive mother of Precious fiction.

Megan, who is African-American, saw the movie and was honest enough in her post to share that as she watched it, she grew angry at men in general, black men especially, despite knowing intellectually that child abuse is an equal opportunity destroyer across ethnic groups. Furthermore, she says she despised Mary Jones, played by Monique.

At this moment, so soon after seeing the movie, I hate men so much I can barely stand it. I especially hate black men because I'm black and feel ashamed to share even a tiny bit of the same heritage of a man who would do this.

You see, I've met Mary. I've met Precious. Maybe we weren't close, maybe we weren't related but I know that in my life, I've met them both.

Sitting in that crowded theatre, watching the fictional Mary do her dirty work, all I could think was that I hated her. (Megan Smith)

Laina made a clear point in her discussion of black people's reactions to the movie Precious that indicate some of us may be more concerned about white people's impression of black people and the black image than cruelty to children and addressing our own dysfunction:

And instead of being ashamed when a story, a difficult, harrowing story in which I believe (despite my concerns about Daniels) is a story that could potentially start some frank and honest discussions - not about Sidibe's weight or how dark she is or how attractive she is - but about what we are going to do about the real boys and girls who are facing these issues. In our communities. Everyday. Are we going to stop being bourgeoisie and do something about it? (Lainad)

I'm looking at Shaniya's story in the news, a story in which a white father has pleaded for the safe return of his flesh-and-blood, real, half-black child while the mother shoves the child into prostitution, turning her in to a sex slave. I don't know what mother Davis's story is. Was she abused herself? Is she a crackhead, perhaps, who'd do anything to get money for her next fix? Is she like Mary Jones who would do anything to keep a man, including sacrifice her child?

All I know is that this is a true story, not a novel, and I wonder if some black people, seeing how this true story of little Shaniya Davis's death is told—seeing the black mother's mug shot, her dead-eyed look, dreadlocked hair and the boyfriend's dark face—will be more angry at the factual storytellers of this nightmare than they are at the people who abused and killed Shaniya Davis.

Will some deflect from the tragedy and say the media's only covering this story because Shaniya was light-skinned, half-white? Will we feel CNN, Fox, the Associated Press, CBS and others go overboard because the facts of the case are as steamy and seedy as a cheap novel?

Let's wait and watch. As I said in my review, Push is fiction and yet non-fiction. Is that what makes us so outraged at these tales, that through them people can look into our closets and see we, African-Americans, are as imperfect as other humans? Are we then ashamed and afraid because we know some ignorant people will paint us all with a broad, ugly brush, ignoring that these kinds of crimes stories are not a black tragedy but tragedies in which some of Americans happen to be black?

But what's more important to us in our enlightened age of increased opportunity? How much of our accumulated baggage from being told and sometimes fearing we are inferior prevents us from seeing past our own skin when we hear stories like these? Will it be our image or the plight of abused children in our own communities that calls us to take effective action that surpasses crimes against our children and our intractable fears?

Here's video of Shaniya's father pleading for someone to return his daughter before the child's body was found. I don't present Lockhart as any type of angel because I don't know why he returned Shaniya to her mother after years of taking care of her. All I know is that he wasn't the one who kidnapped her. He wasn't the one who killed her, and unless something comes to light to say otherwise, he didn't farm her out as a sex slave. Her mother did that. So, unless I learn my sympathies are misplaced, I feel for this man because his guilt at giving Shaniya back, possibly against better instincts, is probably unbearable.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

CBS has other still shot photos related to this case.

Shaniya Davis's story, readers, is a Greek tragedy retold for a multi-cultural, modern, scandal-addicted America, but unlike our insight into Medea from Greek literature, who consciously murders her children after she learns of her husband's betrayal, we may never know the depth of psychological garbage that caused Antoinette Davis to murder her daughter's spirit by allegedly making her a sex slave and subjecting her to the abuse that probably led to her death. We don't know her specific demons, but we should know ours.

Shaniya Nicole Davis

This post is cross-posted at WSATA.

Nordette Adams is a CE. Keep up with her writing adventures at

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