Former American Idol finalist Syesha Mercado and her partner Tyron Deneer said at a press conference Tuesday they believe they are being targeted because of how they’re choosing to raise their children. The couple had their second child taken by authorities last week during a roadside welfare check.
According to NBC News, Deneer told reporters that he thinks their children were taken away “because of how we present ourselves, our culture, the way we look.” Both he and Mercado were raising their children in a Black vegan lifestyle.
Last week their second child, a 10-day-old girl, was taken by the local sheriff’s department only six months after they lost custody of their son during a hospital visit. They had taken their son to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg after she began experiencing lactation issues while pregnant with their daughter.
“This is my first time being a mom and I’ve been deprived of holding my babies and feeding my babies. I didn’t get to see Ra say ‘momma’ for the first time and I didn’t get to see my babies meet for the first time,” Mercado say, according to NBC. “I’m just missing out on so many precious moments.”
The couple is now being represented by a team of lawyers, including Derrick McBurrows and civil rights attorneys Louis Baptiste and Ben Crump. According to NBC, McBurrows says there is a “false narrative” being made about the couple and their parenting, including Child Protective Services’ claim that Mercado hadn’t been taking her son for routine medical visits prior to the hospital trip. The attorney says he has the paperwork to prove otherwise.
According to USA Today, Baptiste said that both of the children are together and with an estranged relative. Mercado and Deneer can visit them once a week.
“We don’t want to say where for their safety, but they are not with their parents,” Baptiste said, USA Today notes. “And not with the person they would choose.”
From USA Today:
McBurrows said he was “permanently changed” by the couple’s visitation experience through the Safe Children’s Coalition, the local agency contracted by the state to handle foster care and child welfare.
“The facility was absolutely disgusting,” McBurrows said. “I could see tension on Syesha’s face, and she’s still trying to build a relationship with their children. I will never be the same after the pain and shame they had to go through.”
The couple’s GoFundMe campaign, started in April to cover legal fees, has now collected more than $416,000, more than double its $200,000 goal, with donations from thousands of people.