In a recent post about my daughter's short disappearance at my son's school, I briefly mentioned another time that she had also gone missing at my church some years prior. Because I didn't go into detail about it, I didn't get a chance to share that it was a police officer - a WHITE male police officer - whom I have to thank for her safe return.
This is my story.
I was at my church on the first day of Vacation Bible School (VBS) dropping off my older kids. Afterward, I planned to take my two little ones to the church childcare area for babies and toddlers (who were not yet school aged and therefore too young for VBS). There was a "drive through" type of drop off available for those of us who had pre-registered for VBS, but I didn't use it since I was going to be staying up there as a volunteer for the VBS group that our church holds simultaneously for disabled youth. I figured I had to come inside and check myself in anyway, so I might as well bring them in rather than bothering with the drive through.
Because my kids are different ages and different genders, I had to drop them off in different groups situated in different seating areas. Upon doing so, I saw one of my kids' names was misspelled on their name tag, so after dropping the kids I headed to the church lobby where there was a registration table. I filled out a new card so they could replace the name tag with the proper spelling for the rest of the week. When I was done, I handed it to the adult volunteer. I looked beside me, and noticed that only one of my two smaller children was still inside the stroller. My son was still strapped in there, but my daughter had vanished. I looked around frantically. I called her name. No sign of her.
I retraced my steps. I prayed. I searched several places where I thought she'd be. I ran to the info desk and explained what happened. They immediately got on their walkie talkies and sent staff and volunteers in search of her.
My church is literally right off of the exit of a major freeway.
My daughter is autistic, and (was once) prone to wandering.
I dissolved into a puddle of tears.
I left my son with a church volunteer and friend and dashed to the parking lot, praying that I didn't see her body crumpled there. I knew that people were looking for her, but I felt that I needed to look too. I was her MOTHER after all.
As I ran, I called her dad to let him know what was going on. Crying hard, I could barely get the words out. As I neared the parking lot nearest the freeway, I hung up in his face so that I could concentrate. (He commenced to calling back repeatedly, though I was too frantic to answer, so he immediately left work and started heading across town to come to the church.)
I didn't see her. Anywhere.
I stood in the middle of the parking lot, crying helpless tears.
I managed to re-enter the building. I walked over to the info desk still crying, but hoping against hope. Had she been found? The looks on their faces told me everything that I needed to know even before they shook their heads "no."
A hand touched my shoulder. It was a man (a white man about my age). He explained that he'd just dropped his kids off at VBS and noticed me crying in the parking lot. Worried, he had followed me in. He said he was a police officer and it was his off day, but wanted to help if he could. I handed him my cell phone with shaking hands; my daughter's face was on the screensaver. He studied the picture for a while, and then off he went.
As I write this it is causing me to relive this situation and I fear it is beginning to trigger me. Because it has been quite some time since this actually happened I thought I could write about it now. I can see now that I was wrong. So I apologize for being a poor author, but I'm going to cut right to the ending now. Thankfully, that ending is that some minutes later, one of the church staff happily informed me that they'd heard on their walkie-talkie that my daughter had been located - unharmed. Upon hearing that, my tears continued to fall, but now they were tears of relief and joy.
I will never forget watching that officer, - this benevolent, brown haired green eyed stranger whose name I didn't even know - walk into the church with my daughter nestled safely in his arms.
I never even got his name. I hugged him tightly along with my daughter, and I tearfully thanked him. I grabbed his hand and blessed him. He smiled, and he appeared to be visibly moved. But as I turned to envelope my daughter in my arms and shower her with kisses and hugs (that she subsequently pointedly wiped away, as she hates the sensation of wet kisses, which these were as I was still crying), at some point he disappeared into the crowd. And I have never seen him since then.
This officer - again, a WHITE male officer - was like an angel of mercy to both me and my daughter that day. I have no idea who he is, but I will forever be indebted to him. I will forever be thankful for his kindness, compassion, and willingness to help. This man didn't know me. He wasn't on the clock. He was under no obligation to go out of his way to help me. He did anyway.
THAT is the true definition of an officer. Someone who is sworn to serve and protect.
So when you see me calling out injustice, racial profiling, police brutality/excessive use of force, unethical grand jury findings and the like, please understand that I do none of that out of hatred for police officers. Though members of my family, and even me personally have had some terrible interactions with unkind, bigoted officers/authority figures, I know they're all not like that. I know that many are heroes.
I will not stop speaking out against and commenting about the ones who do things wrong. Just the other day the injustice done to the family of Eric Garner was yet another reminder of why all of us, myself included, cannot be silent. This is a travesty of justice and a blatant regard for human life, especially black, male human life. It is not out of hatred for officers or hatred for white people that I denounce the wrongs that are being done to my people at the hands of those whom we entrust our lives to.
I owe it to my three black sons who will one day become black men to speak up about these wrongs. I owe it to my black father, a survivor of a violent racist police attack, to speak up. I owe it to my two adult black male brothers to speak up. I owe it to myself, as a Christian woman who believes in equality and love, to speak up.
And I owe it to that compassionate, loving officer - my white brother, whose name I will likely never know, the person who likely saved my black child's life - to speak up. As well as the many officers out there like him who do the right things but are drowned out by the many officers out there NOT like him who are doing the wrong things.
Without speaking a word, that stranger's actions proved that he believed that #BlackLivesMatter and that he was willing to inconvenience himself to demonstrate that truth through his actions. By joining the chorus of voices that are uniting nationwide to oppose these injustices, in my own way I am proudly doing the same.
Are you? Will you?
(This post is dedicated to that "good cop." Bless you, my brother, and thank you. Thank you.)
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