A group of about 40 parents, grandparents and activists rallied inside and outside the Finney State Office Building in Wichita, yesterday, questioning the contradictions between two recent cases involving the Wichita Police Department and children being removed from their parents.
In one case, Charity Blackmon was at a Wichita Walmart, shopping for groceries with her two young children and an adult cousin. After spending over $200 on groceries, Blackmon was stopped by Walmart security as she was leaving the store. Security demanded to search Blackmon’s purse. It was quickly determined that Blackmon had not stolen anything, but for unknown reasons, Wichita Police officers were dispatched.
Officer Edison, with the WPD, determined that Blackmon has an outstanding traffic warrant out of Kingman County, and took Blackmon into custody. Blackmon asked that the children be left in the custody of her mother, Juanita Ridge, the children’s biological grandmother, who was on the scene. For unknown reasons, this request was denied, and, at the officer’s discretion, the children were sent to the Wichita Children’s Home and then moved into foster care, all over a two year old traffic warrant from another county.
Juanita Ridge is a well-known and respected community activist who, for years, has fought for other parents who have had their children unjustly taken into state custody. Why Ridge was unable to take custody of her own grandchildren remains a mystery.
In an unrelated case, an infant child was found alone, left in a closet, while a mother took her significant other to work. After investigating the situation, police determined that the mother has left her infant alone in the closet repeatedly. For unknown reasons, the Wichita Police officers that responded to this call decided to give custody of the child to the grandparents. No charges have been filed against the mother in that case.
Activists say there is clearly an issue here regarding the WPD’s handling of child custody in these matters. Police officers appear to be determining who will take temporary custody of children based on whims, or, possibly even based upon racial prejudices (the race of the family in the closet case is unknown at this time).
State legislators Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau, Representative Gail Finney, and Representative Steve Anthimides were all present at yesterday’s protest, and a meeting was held with the DCF Director Bill Gale. Gale took over DCF operations in Wichita when the former director, Diane Bidwell, resigned amid an investigation into DCF’s relationship with Faithbuilders, an adoption organization. Multiple families allege that DCF unfairly gave their children up for adoption to Faithbuilders. The results of that investigation are sealed. DCF says that the investigation was internal and that the outcome is not available for the public.
Jennifer Winn, who is running against Governor Sam Brownback in the Kansas Republican Primary, was also in attendance. Winn said she questions the motivation behind the Wichita Police Department’s decision to take Charity Blackmon’s kids into custody, while allowing the children in the other case to be placed into their grandparents’ care.
“Grandparents and other qualified families should always be the go-to custodians in these matters. Placing children into state custody, even temporarily, should always be the last resort,” Winn says.