Can our community come together when danger approaches?
September 22, 2011
My son missed his school bus to Granby and my father helped me out by coming to transport him there. My father is aware of my care and concern for my communities’ children and hurries to ask me if I know anything about a missing 2 year old. I say no and he continues to tell me that he was approached in his car and asked if he had a 2 year old child because she was missing. He replied no to the person. Once he arrived to me he said since you are home you should check into this and go help search. Of course I knew that that was exactly what I should do. This could have been my child and I have no excuse to not be involved since I am unemployed at this time and home. So my first reaction was to call the police department to get some basic information so that I would know in what general area to participate in the search around. Was it around Pliny Street where I lived? Or was it somewhere else?
I called the Police Department and a woman answered the phone and I shared that I heard there was a 2 year old missing and I would like some information and I was immediately transferred to another woman whom I repeated my request for information to. The officer’s first response was they have the child. So in joy I repeated it just to make sure I heard correctly. I said “so they found the child” and then she says let me put you on hold for a minute and she comes back and say that this situation is still being investigated. So I state that I would like to find out what’s going on so that I can help. It is at this time that the officer asks me “how could you help? (With a bit of sarcasm) Immediately I realize that I am in a power over conversation with this police woman. So my reply was that I could help search for the missing child if I knew the general area the child got lost in, and in defense of all concerned, involved, and empowered community members I replied back with a hint of sarcasm that if this was a missing child in the suburbs the whole town would be given general information to be involved in a search party. Why are you making me feel like I am crazy for wanting to help search for a missing child in my community! Immediately the officer defends her stance and says I am not saying that you are crazy and then and only then did this officer give me the information that would aid me in being empowered to find out what was going on and where I should go to get more details. She gave me an address for Capen Street which isn’t far from me and I put on a book bag with water, camera, and supplies to be prepared to assist my neighbor/ neighbors to address this situation in any way I could be useful. In the meantime my father called me back to see what I was going to or did in relation to this dilemma in my community and I told him I had an address and was leaving out to offer assistance. He then said and make sure you bring someone with you. I replied O.k. and then I immediately started pondering who do I call or get that cares enough to hit the streets in search of a missing kid with me at 8:30am in the morning? At this time I was still mad at the comment the officer made, “what could you do?” This comment showed to me that even our Police Department don’t think we have much to offer as a community to an extent and even though this officer represented her own ignorance I was left to think how many others who work for and in our community feel the same way. So I called one of my mentors who I know care. I called Andrew Woods of Hartford Communities That Care and left a detailed message on his voicemail about the missing child and my frustration with the officer’s response and how if I wasn’t persistent or knowledgeable enough to navigate her barrier I would have felt powerless to help make a difference in my own community. Andrew called back within 3 minutes and said he was getting ready and would meet me there because these are our kids and we need to be there to help bring them to safety no matter what the individual circumstances. Now, I was even more empowered than when I set out to help. Unlike the officer where I distinctly felt the power over approach I felt the power with approach from Andrew and I set out to assist in any way I could. Again this could have been one of my own kids and I would have wanted help.
So can our community come together when danger approaches? Well when I arrived on Capen Street there were a few people outside and a young woman and Officer Billings (learned name later) on the porch of the address the phone officer had given me. I waited for the officer to finish talking to the woman and as he walked to his cruiser I introduced myself and asked if the child was found and safe. Officer Billings informed me that the child was safe. That the child was found outside of the apartment building by a neighbor who was passing by and the residents of the community who were outside did not know the child as a familiar face of the community so they did not know who the child belonged to. One of the statements Officer Billings said that made me proud of my community is how he talked excitedly about the community involvement on Capen Street around this issue. He mentioned that people came out and offered support, clothing, juice, and comfort to the lost child. He also mentioned that the principal of Clark Street School came out to offer support. He informed me that the child was picked up out of state and brought back to Connecticut to be cared for by the young woman just days before. This is the reason why no one on the scene knew the child. He shared that when the woman’s older kids left the house to go to school the two year old followed them, unbeknownst to the older kids out of the door while the adult in the house was still asleep. The Officer also stated that because no one knew the child that they did not go immediately into the building that the child was found in front of. This was the exact house that he now lived in.
What a happy ending! I was pleased to find out that the child was safe. I was pleased with my community for coming out and showing support, and I was pleased with Officer Billings for updating me without ever responding in a fashion that implied I wasn’t worthy of the information or to assist, I was pleased with Hartford Communities That Care for its Executive Director not counting it robbery to jump out of his bed earlier than planned and to come out and help search for one of our missing kids, I was pleased again with this particular officer understanding the dynamics that lead this child to being outside of its home and not presenting it as some great show of lack of parenting but as a sign of humanity and things learned in order to make changes to prevent this type of thing from happening again. I was happy, you know because I have witnessed the Department of Children and Families (DCF) being used as a first resort by officers who don’t understand or have compassion for the community that they serve in. This officer showed me that he understood that this sort of thing could happen to anyone. We’ll, honestly, me and my family still tells the story and laugh at how my daughter Chaneaka at 2 years old learned to unlock the front door and take a stroll down the street until a man who was driving by stopped at the corner she was waiting to cross. He got out and asked neighbors who she belonged to and they knew us so he knocked at the door and got no answer. The police came and opened my unlocked door while holding Chaneaka. He came to my bedroom which was the last room in the four bedroom apartment and found my sleeping babysitter. I was at work and my sitter calls me and says you will not believe this but the police need to talk to you. I say police, and he tells me the story. This was another situation and time, but another happy ending.
Before I conclude I would like to pose the question. If you who are reading this live in an urban community as I do, would you be available to your neighbors and community to search for a missing child, pass out flyers, or rally behind a cause to save our children? I know some of you work, but I also know that some of you work on different shifts. What about those of us who are unemployed at present? Can you, will you, help save our children in any way you can be available? The police are actually here to serve our communities. If you ever hear that a child is missing please find out how you can help and call the police department and get the details no matter who answers the phone. You have a right and a civic responsibility to CARE.