Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Billboard and a Lost Child

I was sitting at a stoplight downtown recently. While waiting for the light to turn, I happened to glance over at a billboard. There, I saw picture of a stern looking bald Black man balancing a child on his knee. In the background, superimposed, were the gray images of a Hispanic looking woman on one side and a smallish Hispanic looking boy. The faces looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place them. I read the message that ran alongside the images. It said something about a helping Erica fight crimes against children “in memory of Cesar “Ivan” Cano”. Ah yes, I thought, just as the light turned green, I now remembered the faces.

The man was Christopher 2x (born Christopher Bryant) and minister for the Nation of Islam. Chris has developed something of a minor reputation locally as a “family spokesperson” mainly in Louisville’s West End and Portland areas. These families are usually reeling from a murder or other tragedy of some sort which has generated some media coverage. He took a big leap forward by becoming a “spokesperson” for the mother of “Ivan” Cano and the high profile murder of her child (how he does this, I don’t know since 2X speaks no Spanish that I know of, and his mother speaks little to no English. I assume she has a Spanish speaking spokesperson to speak to the media “family spokesperson”).

Ivan was a young child of about 4 years of age as I recall who had been murdered. His body was found in the back of a city garbage truck after he was finally reported missing. The police have been mum about the exact nature of his death, but it's assumed that he may have been the victim of a child predator (and indeed, a previously convicted child molester, Cecil Eugene New II, was arrested several weeks later. New has pleaded not guilty to all charges).

The investigation also revealed that his mother was here illegally and was being illegally employed at Churchill Downs as a horse “hot walker”. The reports said that little Ivan was usually left by himself while his mother went off to work every morning a few blocks away. On one occasion, Ivan was even hit (bumped may be a better descripition) by a car as he tried to cross busy Central Avenue (presumably looking for his mother). Neighbors tried to watch out for Ivan the best they could, but apparently because his mother was here illegally, no one bothered to call any of the child protection agencies, and most certainly not the police (which is why no "Amber Alert" was ever issued). Of course, if they had, Ivan may still be alive today, albeit back in his native Guatemala rather than buried there. As for the mother, she was allowed to escort the body of her son back to Guatemala, and with the permission of the Metro Louisville Police Department, allowed to return while the investigation continued (never mind the fact that she had already been thoroughly questioned and could add nothing to investigation. Her initial statement at the time said that back in her Guatemalan village, everyone watched after everyone else’s children. I presume it was pointed out to her that she was no longer in Guatemala). Churchill Downs publicly stated she could have her job back upon her return.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when Christopher 2X announced that he wanted to build a monument to Ivan at a cost of $75,000.00. A sculptor was selected, and a fundraiser was held (not especially successful. It raised only about $8000). Chris has since been making the round try to find some money, but seemingly with little success. Then, in a move I can only assume was designed to force the issue, 2X showed up unannounced with the media in tow at a meeting on January 31st being held by Metro Councilwoman Marianne Butler (D-15). This was the third of four planned meeting was to focus on Wyandotte Park’s renovation.

Christopher 2X announced unexpectedly that he wanted the approximately 7 foot statute to be place in or near the center of the park. Needless to say, the residents in attendance were far from pleased (some of whom felt completely blindsided at the suggestion). Not only is the park not that large, especially with the renovations planned, the statute was viewed as being inappropriate at best by many of the attendees. The statute would seem to imply that the Southend has a problem with child molesters (which is does not) and would at the very minimum create a negative impression of the Southend (which residents are already trying to overcome). Secondly, more than one child has lost their life as a result of murder, be it random violence, drugs, robbery, drunk drivers, or sadly, parental neglect. Lastly, this murder would have likely never occurred had Ivan’s mother acted more responsibly, or had neighbors reported her behavior to the authorities.

As for my opinion, I say not at Wyandotte Park. Sorry. No way. The Southend has enough problems without that label. Ivan’s death was a tragedy, but one that could have likely been prevented. And let's get one thing straight, any memorial, if there is ever to be one, regardless of where it is placed, should not in any way dedicated to one child. There are countless victims of child abuse out there. That money--all $75,000.00 Chris 2X is trying to raise--would be better spent on organizations that protect children and not on some cold impersonal rock. These kids need love. They need people who care, and these agencies desperately need the resources to help the children. This crime has also refocused the need get serious about the illegal alien problem once and for all.

Ivan was the victim of possibility a child predator, but also of parental neglect and whose mother, had she not been an illegal alien, would have (and should have in my opinion) been reported to the child welfare authorities. Had those who witnessed his neglect done so, Ivan may still be alive. I suppose they thought they were helping her by protecting her illegal status, but at what cost to Ivan? His life apparently. Nevertheless, it is my personal opinion that it may be Ivan’s memory that is now being abused. Let’s look to real solutions, not to cold stone.

Local Southend activist, Ron Gambrell wrote an interesting article recently about the separation of Church and State. I thought it would be a fitting addition to this week’s AO. With Ron’s permission, here it is:

Separation of Church and State
by Ron Gambrell

In the Courier-Journal's Sunday, Dec. 30, 2007 Forum, Mr. Siddique Malik discussed common ground between Islam and Christianity. He was right on the mark when he wrote, “The problem that Muslims face is not a lack of religion in their lives but an excess of it.”

If Islam and Christianity do have common ground, it should be a desire for world peace. A goal that can never be accomplished as long as nations allow religious leaders to determine their style of government. Thousands of years ago, a big part of what we now call the Middle East was known as Mesopotamia, one of the world’s first major civilizations. Yet, the further we get away from there, the more civilized people are. Why is this? Why are many of the countries in and around that part of the world still living so far behind times? Why are their women still being discriminated against in ways civilized peoples never tolerate?
Could it be because those countries governments are overly influenced by religious leaders? Men who consider and treat all women as subordinates? Men who believe and teach that denying basic civil rights is the desire of their god? Men who are quick to assassinate the likes of Benazir Bhutto, a highly educated woman who devoted her life to a dream for change?

In America, in the late 1600s, religious fanatics burned innocent women at the stake because of a ridiculous fear of witchcraft. Fortunately, our founding fathers considered such atrocities when determining that in The United States of America, religion is a right, not a requirement. We keep, as a rule, our religion and politics separated. I’m not saying that our political leaders should not be religious. Often, their character can be gauged by their beliefs. However, our political leaders should never be pressured to rule according to the wishes of any particular religion.

I am a practicing Catholic, and yet I do not want my Pope to determine the policies of American politics. His opinion on world issues is important and welcome, but it is not law. Our law wisely forbids religious leaders from preaching politics at the pulpit. As a Christian, it is hard to say that I am for separation of Church and State. But as a responsible American, I must and do. Otherwise, we could backslide to the chaos seen in religiously governed countries.

We should all look forward to the day when peoples around the world wake up and quit allowing their religions to rule their politics in ways that deny basic human rights to citizens. In the mean time, those moving to this country from Muslim regions must be aware that in America, freedom reigns over religion. In this country, religious leaders do not make the law, and if they break the law, we put them in jail. In this country, religious leaders have no more or less rights than anyone else. In other words, when you come to America, you are welcome to practice your religion, so long as it does not deny anyone the civil liberties and basic human rights that our forefathers fought for. Rights that we as Americans demand.

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