"Law and Order's" Lt. Anita Van Buren appears to be the best hope for missing little boy Hasanni Campbell. Campbell -- 5 years old at the time -- disappeared Aug. 10, 2009, from the Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland.
Actress Sharon Epatha Merkerson, who played policewoman Van Buren in more than 380 episodes of the primetime police drama, will host a recreation of Campbell's disappearance on "Find Our Missing," a television show that airs Wednesday on TVOne.
TVOne "delivers real life and entertainment programming from the African American point of view" according to its website and is available in about half of all American homes with cable, including San Francisco and Oakland.
The show will be dedicated to finding missing African Americans because "of a pervasive feeling among many blacks that their cases don't get as much attention as cases involving whites, particularly attractive young white women" says the Associated Press.
Indeed, Hasanni Campbell -- who is African American -- seems like just the sort of missing child television producers would normally feature: one of the few photographs of the strikingly handsome boy features an innocent expression and a jaunty blue mortarboard. He was handicapped, too, having to wear leg braces to compensate for his cerebral palsy.
"I do think It has something to do with race," said Oakland Tribune reporter Kristin Bender. "I think race plays a factor in a lot of missing cases. It's no secret if you're pretty and white you will get media attention. [Hasanni] had no one on his side. He was voiceless."
For a time, the Campbell case made news in the San Francisco Bay area. Volunteer groups scoured the trendy, upscale neighborhood -- though few volunteers came from the neighborhood itself.
A candlelight vigil attracted a few dozen -- though "at least half were reporters" recalls Bender. Bender is interviewed in the television segment.
"I wrote about their bake sales and fundraisers and car washes. It touched me, even though I'm not a parent," she said.
Suspicion turned quickly to the boy's foster father Louis Ross, who was the last to see the boy.
Ross and the boy's foster mother, Jennifer Campbell (Hasanni's biological aunt) were held and then released on a lack of evidence. The pair has left California and are apparently no longer a couple.
Oakland police repeatedly fingered Ross as the prime suspect, though earlier home inspections by San Francisco Department of Human Services found the couple to be "really good foster parents."
Ross says he drove Hasanni and his little sister to the Rockridge shoe store Jennifer Campbell managed. Ross said he left Hasanni in the car and returned to find the boy missing. Police suspect Hosanni had in fact disappeared days earlier.
The investigation remained a "priority" in 2010 according to then Oakland Police spokesperson Holly Joshi, though she said the detective in the case retired and police did not actively pursue the case further.
Criticism of Oakland Police grew after the police department discouraged volunteers and even other police agencies from searching for the boy. A volunteer group set up to find Hasanni gave up and tried to establish a summer camp in his name instead. The effort failed.
Another recent candlelight vigil to mark the anniversary of the disappearance attracted just two people.
The "Find Our Missing" episodes uses interviews with real-life reporters from the Oakland Tribune and Oakland police officers mixed with actors potraying Hasanni, Jennifer and Louis.
Disclosure: TVOne is partially funded by Comcast, parent company of this website.
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