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Katherine Clark and the myth of bad parenting

The partisan and transphobic criticism of the Massachusetts congresswoman for the actions of her 23-year-old daughter are a sad if predictable byproduct of a political culture that thrives on mean-spirited vitriol.

US Representative Katherine Clark.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

It was ugly and oh-so-predictable that after the 23-year-old daughter of US Representative Katherine Clark was charged with bloodying the mouth and nose of a Boston police officer who tried to stop her from spraying antipolice graffiti on the Parkman Bandstand in Boston Common, Clark was accused of being a cop hater.

Given Riley Dowell’s alleged actions, and her apparent alignment with an antipolice group, it is reasonable to draw an inference that she doesn’t like cops. Boston police allege she tagged the Parkman Bandstand with “No Cop City,” a reference to a police training facility in suburban Atlanta that has drawn protests from far-left activists, and “ACAB,” the extremist acronym for “All Cops Are Bastards.”


Ascribing her antipolice sentiments to her mother, however, is a cheap shot and indulges in one of the most pernicious, cynical myths: that parents are responsible for the actions of their adult children.

And, even worse, suggesting that Clark’s parenting is also the reason her daughter is nonbinary, as so many have on social media and in the comment section of this newspaper and others, is not only transphobic; it’s just plain ignorant.

Some Republicans were quick to accuse Clark, the House Democratic whip, of being antipolice because in her initial statement on the arrest she did not condemn her daughter nor express concern for the officer her daughter is accused of punching in the face.

Will Reinert, the national press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said: “We already knew Democrats were the party of ‘defund the police.’ Still, it’s shocking to see in black and white a Democratic Party so extreme [that] its leaders are incapable of saying violence against cops is wrong.”

So, the same people who downplayed or overlooked or made excuses for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, in which more than 100 police officers were injured, one officer died, and other traumatized officers committed suicide, have the cheek to claim a political rival hates the police.


Irony? Satire? Shameless hypocrisy? You decide.

US Representative Nicole Malliotakis, a New York Republican, tweeted about the arrest of Clark’s daughter by noting “the apple does not fall far from the tree.”

That would be the same Nicole Malliotakis who was one of 147 House Republicans who, citing bogus claims of voter fraud, voted against certifying results of the 2020 presidential election, just hours after a mob attacked police officers in an attempt to overthrow a legitimate election.

Showing just how much she backs the blue, Malliotakis voted against forming a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack, and also against formation of the Jan. 6 select committee. Because what better way to show support for the police than opposing an investigation of those who attacked and tried to kill them.

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson plowed the fertile field of parent shaming, with a dose of sarcasm and transphobia thrown in. His blanket denunciation of Democrats was the political equivalent of ACAB.

“It’s just, you know, part of the cycle where your adult son pretends to be a woman and attacks police officers,” Carlson said. “It’s totally normal, it’s just part of the cycle of parenting. Yeah. Again, if you knew the details of their personal lives, you would understand their politics. This is the party of weak men and unhappy women.”


Surrounded by reporters Monday, Clark insisted she was not the antipolice extremist her political opponents were trying to portray her as. She stressed that she is not in the defund-the-police camp and considers police valued partners.

Riley Dowell’s support of those who have used violence while opposing the construction of a police training facility in Georgia is a curious way to bolster an argument for better policing. And when you endorse and promulgate bigoted slogans like ACAB, suggesting you believe all police officers are rotten, it’s hard to take you seriously.

But Dowell owns that. Not her mother.

And Dowell should answer for the charges she faces in a court. Not her mother.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe reporter and columnist who roams New England. He can be reached at