Monday, December 01, 2003
Take AMBER alert national-now Missing kids got big media play a year ago-so much so that we parents were left to wonder whether it would ever again be safe to send the kids outside to play.
Then we heard that the media had overplayed the entire story, scaring us more than was necessary. But the unnecessary panic may have had an upside: the PROTECT Act of 2003.
That law, signed by President Bush in April, calls for the creation of a national AMBER Alert network. Named for Amber Hagerman, who was 9 when she was kidnapped and murdered, the acronym now stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. The network already has helped find 106 kids nationally.
Marilyn Ali was among the latest. The 3-year-old South Side resident was taken from her home in October, allegedly by a troubled young woman. Believing the little girl was in imminent danger, Chicago Police issued the city's first AMBER Alert. Immediately, Chicago media began flashing the news that Marilyn was missing. Thanks to the keen eye of a mom, Matissa Finley, Marilyn was returned home two days after being abducted.
The wide dissemination of information about Marilyn helped ensure her safe return, although technology and broadcast systems deserve only part of the credit. Finley saw Marilyn's missing child poster in a Blockbuster store where it had most likely been placed by a beat cop doing his job in the old-fashioned way-walking the streets and distributing flyers. Still, when a child is missing and thought to be in serious danger, the more eyes looking for that child, the better.
As Marc Klaas, father of Polly, who was 12 when she was kidnapped and murdered in California in 1993, notes: "A kidnapper can disappear at the rate of a mile a minute. [An AMBER alert] cuts off their escape route. Even kidnappers have to stop for gas or a burger or a six-pack or whatever. Polly's kidnapper stopped for gas."
Illinois State Police have issued 12 AMBER Alerts since January 2002. Eleven of those children were found alive. The guidelines are stringent-the missing child must be 16 or younger and believed to be in imminent danger. Police are cautious about issuing AMBER Alerts for fear of watering down their impact-just as many people toss those missing child mailers without more than a glance at the age-progressed face.
This is a system that is working-the proof is in the recovery of 106 children. But the system works primarily on a local level. The government has made little progress in implementing the national system called for in the PROTECT Act. The federal government is convening meetings and discussing technology-at the snail's pace that is characteristic of federal government work.
Would Marilyn Ali have been found as quickly if her kidnapper had taken her to South Dakota rather than Chicago's South Side? It's unlikely, since there would not have been a national alert telling everyone of her disappearance.
There already are national law enforcement systems. The Internet is available to everyone. Implementing a national system should not be that hard. It's time to stop talking and start acting. Children's lives are at stake.
Peace is the best thank you It is always wonderful to receive praise. But sometimes praise is more than a measure of thanks. It offers an insight.
We have received a number of grateful calls and letters from the Muslim community about the cover of our November issue. It features a picture of a beautiful 8-year-old girl wearing a head scarf or hijab, the traditional Islamic veil for women. The picture illustrates a story about families celebrating Ramadan.
The calls and letters have been effusive. Several people expressed their tremendous relief to see their religion portrayed in a positive light. Since Sept. 11, they told us, Islam has been seen by too many as synonymous with terrorism and violence.
It was startling and made us wonder: Did we learn anything from Sept. 11?
Prejudice and stereotyping led to the terrorist attacks that killed thousands on Sept. 11. It also has lead to further violence against Americans around the world. Haven't we learned that perpetuating stereotypes perpetuates violence?
And what are we teaching our children?
In Chicago Parent's July cover story, we asked, "Are you raising a racist?" The story explores racism and our behavior as parents. It tells us it's not just our words that teach children but our lack of action in showing them a diverse world or in stopping others from making racial remarks.
Perhaps, if we want "Peace on Earth" this season, a good start might be a new family tradition. This year, teach your children well. Learn about another religion and visit a different house of worship. It's a good place to start.