Many of you are familiar with the traffic stop I made October 1st, 2016, that led to my encounter with a terrified Black teen named, Brandon. The innocuous recounting of that morning’s traffic stop on my personal Facebook page would ultimately propel the entire event into a global phenomenon. The momentum sparked by that initial traffic stop has continuously grown into an international collective of people who reject the populist notion that the diversity of humanity cannot coexist together in harmony.
However, what almost everyone is unaware of is that the events of October 1st or the emotional experiences that set the stage for one of the most famous traffic stops in the world didn’t begin with Brandon. In fact, it never started with a traffic stop at all.
For the first time, I now will publically share with you all the real story, before the story, that doesn’t involve a teen named Brandon who was terrified of me. The actual story began with a 7-year old named Khayri.
My shift the morning, I pulled Brandon over had started at 3:00 pm September 29th and was supposed to end at 3:00 am on October 1st. However, as fate would have it, I wouldn’t find myself getting off work until after 7:00 am that morning, which is exact reason I happened ever to encounter Brandon in the first place. The providential event that interfered with my schedule that morning began with a 911 call reporting a shooting at almost 3:00 am.
Less than an hour from when I was supposed to get off work, I found myself racing with blue lights flashing and siren blaring, towards a neighborhood at the northern edge of my jurisdictional limits. A 911 caller had reported that the sound of gunshots had shattered the quiet tranquility of the early morning hours. Upon our Officers arrival they discovered a man suffering from a gunshot wound to his leg, and another gentleman in the middle of the road with his hands in the air saying, “I shot him.”
To make a bizarre and seemingly complex story short, other officers and myself were quickly able to determine that the gentleman suffering from the gunshot wound was more of a perpetrator than a victim of a crime. To save the privacy of those involved, I’ll only say that the entire event can fall under the umbrella of what can go wrong when you decide it’s a good idea to confront the unwitting husband of the person you are having an extramarital affair with at their home. Ultimately, the entire experience of “when keeping it real goes wrong” ended with the slamming shut of the doors to an ambulance. As the ambulance pulled off one of my officers looked at me and said, “Lt. what do you want us to do with the kid?”
It was at this time I was briefed that the key eyewitness to this entire event, was the man who had been shot’s 7-year old son. I was told the young man was sitting in his Dad's car right now. I made my way to a dark-colored sedan parked on the edge of the road and opened the driver’s door. What I saw took me back and humbled into a somber reminder that none our actions as people ever occur entirely in a vacuum.
In the passenger’s seat of the sedan, sat Khayri. The morning I met Khayri, he had a head full of long dreads, pulled back behind his head, exposing his soft chubby cheeks. The kind of cheeks that were designed to show off big toothy smiles, and invite grandmothers from all over to pinch them. Unfortunately, this morning, Khayri’s cheeks acted as little hills offering paths of relief for the flowing stream tears that were pooling in his bright, youthful brown eyes.
For a brief moment in time, neither Khayri nor I said a word to each other. I’m not sure what was going on Khayri’s mind at that moment. However, I recall looking into his big tear-filled brown eyes, and thinking, “Dear God, his eye’s look just like my son’s.” In that instance, he was distinguished only by the fact he was a scared, 7-year old, who had just watched his father be shot. Finally, Khayri looked at me and said, “Sir, is my Daddy going to be ok.” I knelt down to ensure I was on his level, and not some towering uniformed figure of imposition and said, “Yes, I promise he’s going to be fine.” This news seemed to provide some relief to Khayri, and he wiped his cheeks, and for the first time, I saw a flash of brightness within his eyes. Khayri, then looked at me and said, “Sir, I want my Mom. If you can get me as close as you can to my Mom’s house, I can walk the rest of the way.”
Few of us as adults can fathom the selflessness and humility of 7-year old Khayri at the moment he made this request of me. In light of everything Khayri had been through, he asked me to take him home only to the point in which it wouldn’t inconvenience me. He gave no consideration to his own perilousness. I looked at him and said, “I promise you, I’m going to get you to your Mom no matter what.”
After a brief discussion with the Detective on the scene, in which I informed him that any interview with Khayri would have to occur at a later date, I loaded Khayri up in my police car, and we were on the way to find his mother.
As my black and white Crown Vic rolled towards Southside Savannah, I discovered that 7-year old, who found himself in my car due to a series of unfortunate events, was an energetic, polite and incredibly intelligent young man. He seemed to take some delight in the fact that his elementary school was the same school I went to years ago, and that riding in my police car was a privilege that even my own children had never enjoyed. As the clocked ticked the waning hours past 3:30 am, I remember asking Khayri, “Do you always stay up this late?” My question was responded only with silence, and I looked over just in time to see, Khayri’s head slide onto my arm on the armrest as he fell fast asleep.
Khayri would end up getting almost an hour-long nap on my arm, thanks largely in part to my GPS leading me all over town, expect to where I actually needed to go. Well after 4:00 am I woke Khayri up to let him know, we had finally made it to his Mom.
In the morning hours that are either late or early depending on who you are, I met Khayri’s mother. From my previous interaction with Khayri, I had a suspicion about his mother, one of which she quickly confirmed for me as soon as we spoke. Khayri’s mom is a good woman. The kind of woman, who loves her kids and imparts to them the lessons in life that parents must, to ensure their children will grow up to be productive adults.
That morning, I spoke to his mother, and she shared with me the fears and frustrations she has had to endure since ending the relationship with Khayri’s father and having to adhere to the custody orders imposed by the court. In a tone of exasperation, his mother said to me, “All I can do is pray for God to help.”
Hearing, Khayri’s mom’s words and seeing the hardship and fears from a woman who is trying to do the right thing, I realized how important Khayri could be to us all. Khayri has his entire life ahead of him, he could be the person to cure cancer, or he could be President of the United States someday. I want all kids to have both parents in their lives, but they must also both be good influences and willing to protect the sanctity of their youth. I looked at Khayri’s mother, and I said, “Ma'am you’ve told me you prayed to God for help, well this morning God has answered you.” I then elaborated on everything I could do and was going to do to help her in her situation to make sure Khayri stays safe.
Before, I left that morning Khayri’s mother gave me a hug and said, “Thank you for taking care of my son.” It was a kind of hug that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the entire time I’ve ever been in uniform. It was a genuine emotional embrace of appreciativeness and tenderness. It was during that embrace that I realized, this entire morning, Khayri wasn’t a Black kid, his mother wasn’t a Black woman, and I wasn’t a white cop. Rather, Khayri was a scared kid, his mother was someone who loves and wants what’s best for her son, and I was just a guy who was glad he could help.
The story of Khayri is what ultimately had the most dramatic effect on what would be one of the most fateful days of my life. Hours later when I pulled Brandon over, much of the sadness I felt when I saw him afraid of me had to do with the fact that it was such a dramatically opposite experience from the one I had with 7-year old Khayri only hours earlier. In my original, Facebook post, which was exactly what I told Brandon, when I said, “I want your Mom to see her baby boy grow up and be somebody” I was saying it to Brandon, but I was thinking of Khayri.
Khayri represented the innocence of Black youth, while Brandon demonstrated the poison that is inflicted on far too many Black kids as they mature into adulthood. It is the realization that this gap exists in which children are filled with dreams and love. However, as one grows-up those dreams can be hit head on with the cold-heartedness of fear and oppression. This is what we must fix, and it must be fixed by us all. Because the reality of it is that Brandon, Khyari, or any of our youths regardless of their skin color could be the one who cures cancer or becomes the next president of the United States.
Lastly, I am happy to say I kept my promise to Khayri and his mother and I have checked in on them several times since we first met. In fact the picture of Khayri and me here was taken just a few days ago. I am not sure what Khayri is going to be when he grows up. However, I have this sneaky suspicion it’s going to be something great. So now my job, is to try to ensure that the world is a better place for him, and all of our kids when they make it to adulthood. To try to make the world a better place than the one I initially pulled Brandon over in.