Children, 911, and the Inner City


A friend of mine is a retired police officer. He once told me the story of a little boy he met while responding to a call. The boy was young, perhaps 5 or 6 years old, and he noticed the 911 on the side of the police car. The boy said to my friend, “Oh, 911! Send ambulance. No Police”.

My friend remarked that the child had been taught from a young age that if he needed to call for an emergency, then he should tell the 911 operator to send an ambulance, but no police. The police, for this child, were not his friend and would not help him. He had been taught to avoid the police at all costs.

It was a troubling concept for me…and for my friend. He became an officer to help make this world a better place. He desired to help; to improve society. It was not his desire to be a fearful force, but a presence of (positive) power and authority.


The inner city, where we live, is a complex intersection of poverty and injustice. No one seems to know how to fix the problem. There are some trying to fight the injustice. Others are trying to lift families up out of their poverty. And all believe they have the magic bullet to turn the city around.

Our faith community recently participated at a soup kitchen in the inner city. Several of us gathered to serve a meal, shovel snow, and sort clothing. It was a way for us to share the love of God with another (less privileged) community.

During our time there, one of our young volunteers collapsed. Her mother rushed to her side, but the child was struggling to stay conscious. Another volunteer tried calling 911, but no one ever answered the phone. Finally, a reserve officer, who was there as basic crowd control, used his privilege to contact emergency himself. The officer told them a child was down and not breathing.

An ambulance arrived in minutes.


What would we have done if that officer had not been there?

We probably would have put the child in our car and drove her to the hospital ourselves. But what if we didn’t own a car? What if we relied on public transportation? Would we take our unconscious child on the bus? Would we run from house to house to find someone who had a car we could borrow?

The officer told us how this is normal in the inner city. He wasn’t being callous. He was stating the facts. Officer Jones said he once spoke with an elderly lady who had an intruder in her home. It took 5 hours for 911 to send help. Fortunately, they only robbed her and left her unharmed.

The Detroit inner city only has four running rescue vehicles. They have 15 police cars that sit in the lot unusable because they “cannot run in this snow”. Truth be told, they probably don’t even have enough officers to fill them.


I would like to tell you I have the answers to solve this riddle. It would be reassuring if there was a plan even beginning to take shape. We start food and clothing programs. We staff educational co-ops. We offer reduced housing and job assistance.

But someone will try to call 911 tonight to get help for their unconscious child and no one will answer the phone.

All I can do is sit with this new revelation right now. I am listening for the voice of God to tell me how I should respond; what I need to do; who I could talk to. I am simply trying to process the injustice of the world and how I should live now…in light of this revelation.

It’s a new day. It’s a new awakening to the world around me. It’s a new opportunity to be hope in the world.


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