Mary Ransom was overwhelmed with tears watching her 6-year-old granddaughter, Tkiyah Hamilton, select Barbie dolls and Baby Alive accessories from the shelves of a Target store Tuesday during the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office’s annual ‘Shop with a Cop’ event.
It was a happy day after a year of hardship for Ransom and her five granddaughters. Ransom’s daughter, Laquana Whitfield, was killed Nov. 26, 2017. Whitfield's ex-boyfriend, Taurus Ike Hamilton, the father of four of her daughters, is accused of killing her and three others in a two-parish shooting spree.
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Ransom said the girls miss their mother, and the anniversary of her death has been difficult for them. Her grandchildren are all she has left of her daughter, and she works her hardest to provide them a stable and happy home, she said.
Tkiyah was one of 10 children, ages five to 13, nominated by schools, community organizations and deputies for a $150 shopping spree at the Millerville Road Target. The local partnership is made possible through Target’s Heroes and Helpers grant program.
The Jackson Elementary student and her shopping partner, Deputy Pashion Norman, patiently scanned the aisles as Tkiyah debated between different toy dogs and outfits for her dolls. At checkout, Tkiyah said she was most excited to play with her Barbie Skipper Babysitters Inc. playset.
Norman said she had followed Whitfield’s murder case and the ensuing custody battle for her children and knew she wanted to help. The deputy connected with the family through mutual friends and invited Ransom and her granddaughter to the event.
“Coming up I didn’t have to want for too much, so I want to try to give back and help out as much as I can,” Norman said.
Ransom said it’s a blessing knowing people care and understand the pain she’s experienced.
“People are always telling me I’m strong, but I tell them to stop saying I’m strong. They look at me, but they don’t know what I feel inside,” Ransom said. “But I’m going to be strong for them.”
Building relationships like the one between Norman, Ransom and Tkiyah is the goal of events like ‘Shop with a Cop,’ said community policing Lt. Chad Parker. People see sheriff’s deputies and automatically assume the worst, he said, and community policing’s goal is to change that negative stereotype.
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It worked for Deputy Jennifer Gonzalez with Elizabeth Garcia and her three children, Lizzy Contreras, 5; David Contreras, 3; and Jimenna Contreras, 1. Gonzalez said the first time she visited the family’s home the children ran from her, but now three months later David will happily wave at her from the window. She’s especially seen a change in Lizzy.
“She used to be scared of the police, but she’s opened up a lot. Now we’re really close,” Gonzalez said.
Lizzy was nominated for the event through the Gardere Initiative, a community organization combating substance abuse and other social dangers in the Gardere area. Thirteen-year-old Jeremiah Mitchell of South Baton Rouge Charter Academy also attended with the group.
Instead of springing for electronics or other pricey items, Jeremiah used his $150 gift card to buy some clothes, a new backpack decorated with Five Nights at Freddy’s video game characters, and dog food and treats for his dog, Oreo. Jeremiah was beaming as deputies asked about his dog.
Smiles like Jeremiah’s are what ‘Shop with a Cop’ is all about, Lt. Parker said.