Seventeen Pounds

We Sisterwives do like a nice man every now and again. Especially if he’s buff handsome awesome (no…wait…he IS awesome!) the first man we ever allowed to post here, because even though he’s a first-class tosser at times, he has a (secret) heart of gold, and shoulders which are heavy laden with the weight of compassion he carries for the people in the community he cares for. Today I hand you over to the writing and thoughts of an amazing gent in a very tough job: Officer Don, one of St Louis’ crew of (white, if it matters) policemen – Lizzi

How Much Does It Matter

The call was for a boy not breathing, with somebody in the house allegedly doing CPR on him.
The firemen got there first. When the police arrived, we noticed the house was a mess.
Shit everywhere.
Huge roaches.

There was a large bed in the middle room being supported by four kitchen chairs at each corner, upon which a queen sized box spring and mattress served as somebody’s sleeping quarters.
There were narrow paths to get through the house, the rest of the landscape having been covered by clothes and rubbish and various other useless items like unplugged televisions and an unassembled basketball net.
The net looked to be fairly new. Maybe it was a Christmas gift?

If it was a Christmas gift for the eight year old boy, he’d never use it.
If he wasn’t dead when he went into the back of the ambulance that cold afternoon, then he died somewhere along the four-or-so mile route to the children’s hospital (peacefully we all hoped).

The first officer on the scene has grown kids of his own. He’s seen babies at various stages of their lives.
“I thought that kid was two or three years old when I saw him lying there,” he said. “It was the worst thing I’ve seen in all my time.”

‘All his time’ is close to thirty years, so he’s seen almost everything.

“It was devastating.”

That was a text I got later that night from my friend, a younger, female officer. Luckily for her, she doesn’t have any kids of her own yet, because when she does, these sorts of images will take on a whole new meaning for her, as they do for me, and most police officers, and really any human being who has to see this sort of shit.

“What happened here?” I asked a man who said he was the boy’s grandpa (at this point, grandpa didn’t know the boy was dead).
“I came home with the groceries and my daughter told me AC wasn’t breathing. I went in there to look at him, and he looked like he just wasn’t breathing. That’s all I saw. That’s all I know.”
We all grieve differently, sure, but the apathy displayed by grandpa and most of the other family members in that house about this boy’s imminent death was really starting to piss me off inside.
I looked on the table where grandpa had pointed when he indicated that he’d been grocery shopping.
“These are the groceries?” I asked.
“Yes sir.”

I took my glasses off and rolled my head around the back and then front again to stretch my neck out before I looked over the groceries on the table. I noticed they were in boxes; the sort of boxes a case of canned vegetables would come in. The food was from a discount grocery store; the sort of place that doesn’t offer bags, in order to keep the cost of food down.

In the boxes were about fifty packs of Ramen Noodles. There was chicken flavor, Oriental, shrimp, and even the kind that comes in a cup. At least those have peas and some other roughage in them. There were also a few boxes of macaroni and cheese, along with several boxes of Capri Suns to wash all those carbs down.
“Are you feeding college kids are what?” I finally asked.
Grandpa gave me a quizzical glance and grunted.
“Never mind.” I said. My humor is often lost on the residents of North City.

The family had finally caught wind of the fact that the boy had died, and the level of feigning grief mercifully rose a little bit.
Again, it’s not my place to judge, but if you’d seen what this baby boy looked like, you’d be judging too:
He was eight years old.
He weighed seventeen pounds.

Those of you with little kids will appreciate that disparity immediately, but for those of you who aren’t quite appropriately disturbed, bowling balls weigh seventeen pounds. Six MONTH old boys weigh seventeen pounds.
An eight year old should weigh closer to fifty.

The boy lay dying in a bed, in a room he shared, probably with all his brothers and sisters. And some cousins. And some adults from time to time. There were no toys in the room that I could see. He looked like a boy in one of those pictures I remember seeing as a kid in magazines, of dead African children lost to starvation or disease, surrounded by flies and other children who’d met the same fate.

I didn’t have my own kids back when I’d seen those pictures, so I didn’t get the full effect of how striking those images must have been for their intended audience.
I got the full effect in that bedroom though.

This is America, a first world country.
This shouldn’t be happening.
But, it does. Every day.

The firemen who were still around said their goodbyes to the remaining family members and some even offered condolences.
With each, “I’m sorry for your loss” they spoke, I wanted to punch them right in the face.
They left, leaving me and my partner in the house with the family.

The paramedics and firemen get to leave these scenes early. They get to leave heroes for having tried to save the boy and being kind to a half-assed grieving family. The police officers, on the other hand, have to stick around and ask the ugly questions.

With each probing question, the remaining family members put together what was going on.
“What’s with all these questions?!” Someone finally asked.
An eight year old is dead, you dumb, fat bitch; what don’t you understand about that? Is what I thought.
“It’s just standard questioning, ma’am,” I assured her.
“Wait a damn minute!” Some twenty something uncle or cousin or whatever was now protesting. “I had a gun put in my face last month, and you didn’t do shit! Now you’re going to try to DO something about this?!”

I’m so sure you were walking down the street, (probably pushing one of the many kids in this house in a stroller for some fresh air) when some random guy just came up and put a gun in your face, right? Jesus! I may need to get drunk after work here. Fuck, no! I have to work my second job tonight, then go work out when I get off at midnight. Dammit! That thought about second-work that night was deflating.

“Who are you? I’ve never seen you before and don’t know anything about your ‘gun in the face’ incident.”
“I’m a uncle! I live up da street.”
I sort of wanted to pick the surly Uncle up and chuck him through the front window, but I resisted.

We managed to explain that it was common practice to ask a bunch of questions when a person dies. Well, when a person who shouldn’t be dead dies.

“Do you understand that if we were talking about your 90 year old grandma we wouldn’t be having this conversation? You get that we’re talking still because the boy was eight, right?” Also, HE WEIGHED SEVENTEEN FUCKING POUNDS!!! SEVENTEEN FOR GOD’S SAKE!!!!

Grandpa shook his head and at least pretended that he understood. He suggested the others go the hospital to ‘be there’ for the mother. Great idea. Be there for the mother who wasn’t there for her son when he needed her. It was nearing the end of our shift and I was in a shitty mood. It happens.

They agreed, people dispersed, and soon it was just grandpa, me and six or seven other little kids in the house.
The youngest, perhaps a six month old, was crying in the back room, probably scared since she hadn’t been consoled for nearly thirty minutes that I could tell.
“Sir, why don’t you take care of the babies and I’ll wait outside. The detectives will be here soon to talk to you, is that okay?”
“Yes sir.”

I went back and sat in my patrol car with my partner.
I couldn’t stand another minute in that disgusting house.
“How do people live like that, ya think?” He asked.
He’s new to the area where we patrol, so he’s not been around the block yet, so to speak.
“I don’t know man. Maybe if it’s all you know, you just don’t realize how bad it is or even care? I’m really not sure. I don’t think grandpa is all there mentally, and he’s probably frazzled with all the kids living in this little, dirty house. I would be. Plus they’re poor, man. I don’t know.”

I was torn for real. On the one hand, I really wanted to strangle all the adults who lived in that house. It was gross by any standards and the kids were filthy. Plus…plus, an eight year old boy shouldn’t weigh seventeen pounds and not be taken to a doctor!

But…these are people living in abject poverty, the kind of poverty I pray I never have to experience even for a minute.
Maybe they just don’t know any better.

The boy suffered from some sort of condition. I heard epilepsy, but maybe there was even more.
I’ve seen a couple close friends struggle with raising special needs kids under much better conditions, so to do it in the squalor that is most of where I patrol, must be tremendously hard. Did she know about the resources available to her? Were there even any? I didn’t know, and part of me felt bad for these folks; if they had a compelling enough excuse, I may not have had the heart to come down on them like another cop would.

Still, seventeen pounds at eight years old is not excusable.

‘Poor little guy, rest in peace’, I finally thought to myself as I grabbed for my phone to get a few minutes of distraction.
As I was reaching for my phone in my bag in the back seat, I saw an Impala pull up behind our car and watched as two dapper, black gentlemen stepped out from the car in their fedoras and suits.
“Homicide is here,” I told my partner.
I’ve never been happier to pass along an investigation.

*  *  *  *  *

I struggled all week to think of something to write for you today. When Lizzi asked me if I’d be interested, of course I said yes without even thinking, because I love the ladies in this group. They’ve always been good to me. She wanted something about race or about police and the black community we serve, but I was coming up with nothing until the day this boy died.

The story isn’t about race at all, except it is, because the underlying implication is that, in the eyes of that family, they’re being targeted for being black or for being poor. While I probably didn’t convey it well enough, the family members truly believe that they have done nothing wrong, and maybe they haven’t.

Still, there needs to be an investigation – for obvious reasons – so the police are automatically the bad guys in the eyes of this family. It happens a lot, and while most of us officers would love to have offered this family help long before it got to this point, I’ve never met these folks in my life prior to that day; sometimes we just don’t get that chance. Once we reach the point of a kid being dead, something must be done, for sure. The better solution is one that occurs long before the police are involved because of an untimely death, but now that we are, the police will take the brunt of the criticism for whatever becomes of this mess.

I wish I knew what that better solution was.


Don Re

Don of all trades, master of none – how he sums himself up, how he writes, and how he approaches the world – with an open attitude to life (alternately wanting to fix it, cuddle it better, or strangle the heck outta it) and a heart for others, he does his best to hide his enormous compassion by behaving like a complete tosser.

Find him on his blog at: Don of All Trades

or follow him on Twitter: @donofalltrades1


One last thing from all of us at The Sisterwives:  TOGETHER we need to look after each other, support others and stop these kind of things from happening. Always remember, TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER.

And perhaps, we’ll never have to publish a story like this again.