When Utah told Matthew David Stewart’s parents to stop raising money for their son’s legal defense, my first thought was: Has it gotten this nasty?
The shooting of six cops, and the death of one, was bad enough. But in 34 years, I have never seen my community so torn. People think the cops can do no wrong, or got what was coming to them. People think Stewart is evil, or misunderstood.
I wish everyone would pause to remember that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, that nobody knows what happened in that house and that there are many unanswered questions.
They won’t. Emotions are too high.
Families are the innocents in all this. Last thing we need is a fight over everyone’s heartbroken families asking for help.
Could those emotions have swayed a state agency?
It’s more mundane. Apparently, you need a permit or exemption to raise money for a kid in need.
Any kid. Any charity, in fact.
I had no clue. Neither did the Stewarts. Or others.
On Wednesday, I talked to a woman raising money for a 12-year-old Ogden girl who needs a heart transplant.
“Do you have a permit or exemption?” I asked.
“Uh...” she said.
I hustled her to Division of Consumer Protection Director Traci Gundersen, who told me she loves to help sick children. Gundersen also swears she has nothing against the Stewarts and said the Stewart family permit application will be treated just like everyone else’s.
Many people don’t get permits or exemptions. Usually nobody cares. Who would lie about a sick kid?
Actually, many would.
People running scams love sick kids because they’re money magnets. Registering with the state assures the public the sick kid exists and the money helps only the child.
That’s the irony. Nobody uses accused cop killers to raise money. Accused cop killers are not sympathetic figures.
Problem is, the law is enforced only if someone complains. Gundersen told the Stewarts to quit fundraising because someone complained who — just guessing — doesn’t like accused cop killers.
But the Stewart family has expenses. So do families of the police. So does that 12-year-old child.
They all have the right to ask for help. Except for us choosing who will receive our donations, it is not for us to judge.
Critics of the Stewart family are not alone in judging.
Gundersen has received complaints about fundraising for the police. The charities she can identify are registered, or are being told to.
Cindy Simone, owner of the KoKoMo Lounge in Ogden, tells me she was told to register for a June 9 benefit concert she’s holding because someone complained about her.
Good. Cindy is an angel, but when emotions are this high, everyone needs to be more careful.
You can check who is registered by going to http://consumerprotection.utah.gov and clicking on “search registered entities.”
Sometime this week, you should find a listing for “Abby’s Perfect Broken Heart.”
I begged the organizers to sign up. I dreaded having to say Abby’s charity was illegal.
Abby Wardell, 12, was born with a congenital heart defect. She needs a transplant and other surgery that costs a bazillion dollars.
Abby’s web page at www.abbysperfectbrokenheart.net broke my heart. They’re having a concert April 21 at Ogden High School, and Abby has a Facebook page.
Abby’s family and friends are no different from Stewart’s or the families of the police.
They all need help. Helping people is one thing this community usually agrees on.
And when everyone’s legal, you can feel good about donating to all, or any, or none. Your choice.
The Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. He can be reached at 801-625-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at www.standard.net.