Lt. Tim McMillan pulled over a young, black man for texting while driving on the last day of September. This story, unlike many that make the media, doesn’t end in that young man’s death or a wild video with “he said/she said” type stories from the police and the subject of their stop. When McMillian read the abject terror, visceral, gut-twisting fear for his life in the young man’s eyes, the reaction officer McMillan had next has inspired hundreds of thousands: compassion.
I pulled a car over last night for texting and driving. When I went to talk to the driver, I found a young black male, who was looking at me like he was absolutely terrified with his hands up. He said, “What do you want me to do officer?” His voice was quivering. He was genuinely scared. I just looked at him for a moment, because what I was seeing made me sad. I said, “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
In which he replied, with his voice still shaking, “Do you want me to get out of the car.”
Fear has become the only logical reaction that black Americans (and other minorities, notably American Indians), can possibly have when they are pulled over. They know that their very life hangs in the balance: they can do everything right, be unarmed, and yet still, end up dead. A lot of energy goes into blame for this, declaring whose fault it is. However, the message that McMillan shared isn’t “it isn’t MY fault,” it was that this fear of police is “horrible,” it is wrong and something must be done.
Something was done by McMillan, and that something is giving hope to people. Not giant “this is the end of the mistrust of systemic racism” hope. The kind of hope inspired by the Gandhian act of “becoming the change you wish to see in the world.” The kind of hope inspired by random acts of kindness in a very bleak, very fear-filled world:
I said, “No, I don’t want you to text and drive. I don’t want you to get in a wreck. I want your mom to always have her baby boy. I want you to grow up and be somebody. I don’t even want to write you a ticket. Just please pay attention, and put the phone down. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
Instead of seeing this young man’s terror as some sort of admission of guilt, or agitation, Officer McMillan saw it as a wake-up call. That call didn’t spell out “who was at fault,” but instead addressed that this is a very real problem.
I truly don’t even care who’s fault it is that young man was so scared to have a police officer at his window. Blame the media, blame bad cops, blame protestors, or Colin Kaepernick if you want. It doesn’t matter to me who’s to blame. I just wish somebody would fix it.
No, this isn’t a story of “see, all cops are good,” any more than it is a story of “all young black men are innocent.” (Side note, all Americans are innocent until proven guilty and should have the expectation of being treated that way.) This is a story of one police officers moment of rude awakening, being seen as a predator, and his reaction of calm, deliberate compassion.
This is a story of one man recognizing that “somebody” needs to “fix it,” and becoming that someone. One stop at a time. One mother’s son at a time.
Then this morning, I felt frustration and sadness at seeing a young African American kid be terrified of the uniform I was wearing. It bothered me so much, I wanted to just scream at the whole country “STOP IT! I LOVE MY KIDS WITH ALL OF MY HEART AND EVERYONE IN THIS WORLD IS SOMEONES CHILD THAT THEY LOVE WITH ALL THEIR HEART! Just treat everyone like you would want your children treated, NO MATTER what the situation is.”
I posted a status on Facebook about that very sadness this morning, and went to bed. I woke-up to discovered my status had been shared almost 2000 times (so far). All over the country! People, of all races, genders, and backgrounds were commenting, and messaging me. Everyone was thanking me for what I had said, that it so many people just wanted to hear someone say “IT’S HORRIBLE FOR PEOPLE TO BE AFRAID OF THE POLICE, and I don’t even care who’s at fault. It’s just horrible!” I had over 100 friends request from people all over the country. And now, I don’t even know what to say. I’m not anyone special. I’m not a professional athlete, politician, or celebrity. I’m just a regular guy, who lives paycheck to paycheck, who is so blessed to have an amazing wife and some incredible children I love with all of my heart. I’m lucky to have amazing friends, mentors, and family members in my life. Again, I don’t even know what to say. I’m just a regular person, no better than anyone else. To think that just saying how the situation in this country hurt me from a view on the front lines, could have such meaning to so many people, is so touching, I don’t know how to put it in words.
A Systemic, Multi-Faceted Problem:
The fear that minorities live in, here in the United States of America, wasn’t caused overnight by the random acts of a “few bad apples.” As John Oliver recently explored, we have a system that defaults to supporting and allowing police misconduct. It was many individual acts and breakdowns in our criminal justice system, a systemic problem, not bad individual police officers. From beat cops without body cameras to internal affairs investigations that never become public; from lack of charges to lack of accountability; all the way to a nearly complete lack of data on police killings. There are so many acts by so many people that “blame” has plenty of places to fall.
Some protesters have been violent, destroying property, attacking officers and looting. They have their reasons, they are angry and afraid for their lives. However, they aren’t helping their own cause when they attack people or steal out of anger any more than the police inspire trust through deadly force. Yet, if you protest legally, or even just by “taking a knee” during the national anthem, many tar you with the same brush as dangerous, reactionary, even un-American. Just ask CKaepernick.
This isn’t going to “fix it.” However, each act going in the right direction needs to be praised and emulated. Thank you, Lt. McMillan, for doing your job with compassion and intelligence thank you for “being the change.” Hopefully, your act of defiance against that fear will inspire other officers to do the same thing.