KICKING IN THE DOOR
It was around the time when America was seeing what seemed to be weekly, if not daily, incidents of unarmed black men losing their lives at the hands of police officers. Then Ferguson happened. For many Blacks in America, the shooting of Michael Brown seemed to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I know it was for me.
This is not to suggest that the other tragedies were not heartbreaking, infuriating, frustrating, or hurtful, but this one did it for me. I could no longer just post and complain about these incidents. I had to do something.
It was something about the Michael Brown incident that caused me to continuously think about my own son, Austin, and being on the receiving end of a phone call of such a horrific tragedy about my own child. Although Austin was only two at the time, I couldn't stop thinking to myself that I had to do more than I was already doing to help keep him safe. And there was the additional concern for me of where we lived. And the crazy thing about that, is we live in a pretty nice community. The concern however, was that because we live in a predominately white and relatively affluent community, that the police were there to protect & serve the white community members and police the black ones.
In my mind, this did not bode well for raising a young black male in this town. I was convinced (and concerned) that as Austin grew older that whenever the inevitable mischief of tweens and teens were to take place at school or in the neighborhood, that my son would be targeted and automatically presumed to be the perpetrator of any wrongdoing amongst his peer group. And all I could think was it wouldn't take much for things to go left real quick. I knew I needed to do something, but wasn't exactly sure what that something was. Then I went to the barbershop.
The Michael Brown shooting took place on August 9, 2014. It was a Saturday. That following Wednesday I was at the barbershop for my regular Wednesday appointment. It should come as no surprise that Michael Brown and Ferguson was the topic of conversation in the shop that day. If you’ve never been to a black barbershop, you should know that the conversations tend to get very intense. And there is usually one or two guys who are the most vocal. On this particular day I was both of those guys.
As the conversation progressed that day, there was one particular comment that stuck with me. I remember hearing one guy say that there are a number of highly accomplished black men here in this shop that serve as pillars of this community, but the police will never know that because they don't live in the community, and they will probably never take the time to get to know any of us that actually do live here.
That’s when it hit me. There was little to no familiarity with any of us and our local Law Enforcement. And we were placing all the onus on the officers to initiate that familiarity. I could not let this be the case for my son. My next comment led to an action that changed my life.
I said with unapologetic boldness and conviction that I should head down to the police station tomorrow and tell them that they need to know who I am! And more importantly they need to know who my son is! I continued my grand stand monologue by adding that I would let them know that I demand that they extend the same respect, courtesy, and considerations to me and my son that gets extended to our white counterparts. And the fellas in the shop got hype! And that got me hype. And they continued to hype me up. Man I was pumped! I felt like walking straight to the police station right then and there.
And there it was. I was committed. I stood in front of the entire shop and committed to heading down to the station the next morning and giving whoever was in earshot a piece of my mind. Once again, if you know anything about the barbershop code and culture, I couldn't take those words back. But what I had just committed to really didn't hit me until after I had left the shop. And I also realized that everyone had hyped me up and pushed me to take that stand, but no one had actually volunteered to join me. But there was no turning back at this point.
This is where the title of this blog post kicks in…
The next day, I went down to my local police station, stormed across the parking lot, arrived at the front door, took a deep breath, and I kicked that front door wide open like I was a young Bum Phillips!
I then stood in the middle of lobby and loudly, boldly, and unapologetically shared my message just like I said I would. As I recall it went something like this…
“I need to speak to somebody and I need to speak to somebody right now! My name is Tru Pettigrew and you all need to know who I am. And more importantly you need to know who my son is. I’m fed up with all the inappropriate, irresponsible, and unacceptable events that are taking place with Law Enforcement across the country and I’m determined not to let any of this foolishness happen to my son”.
The young lady at the front desk accommodated me right away by calling the Sergeant of Community Services to come out and meet with me.
At least that’s the story that I told the fellas back at the shop the next day. ;-) The truth of the matter is when I showed up at the station that day, I was nervous. I didn't know what I would say, but I still knew I had to do and say something. I sat in my car for a minute to gather my nerves and finally went in. I gently opened the front door (which pulls out by the way) and quietly asked the young lady at the front desk if there was anyone in community services that I could speak with. The community services sergeant wasn't in at the time, but she gave me his contact information and I emailed him and scheduled an appointment to meet with him the following week.
What happened when we met was the beginning of a new chapter in my life's journey of pursuing my purpose. The officer that I ended up meeting with goes by JB. And I think it’s important to note that JB is a 6’-5”, 260 lb white male police officer in the South (NC)! Basically the exact prototypical stereotype in which my concerns were rooted.
It was me and one of my mentees at the time that went to the meeting. And after I respectfully expressed my concerns to JB he received everything that I had to say with an open mind and more importantly with an open heart. He didn't take offense to anything I had to say and he wasn't defensive in his responses. His focus was on how can we work together to alleviate these concerns for me and others in the community that thought the same way that I thought and felt the same way that I felt. I was not expecting that response.
After breaking bread a few times, and a few more meetings, conversations, and introductions to some other officers, I realized something. I realized that all of the thoughts and perceptions that I had about my local police department were wrong. I was able to realize that because I gave them a chance. And JB and others in the department including their Chief were willing to hear me out and were not dismissive of my experiences, thoughts, and feelings. They did not dismiss the realities of the world that I lived in simply because it was not their reality.
I was invited to be one of the founding members of a Building Bridges movement that the police department created and we’ve never looked back. Three years later we have created numerous training programs, and community outreach and engagement initiatives that have transformed and in some cases saved peoples lives. We do work in middle schools, high schools, colleges, churches, barbershops, community centers and more. All in the name of Building Bridges with Law Enforcement and the diverse communities that they serve. And we do this together. Our efforts and programs have even extended to other departments and agencies throughout the state!
And over those three years after kicking in the door, I am proud to say that I not only consider JB and Chief friends of mine, but they are my brothers. “Kicking in the door” at my local police department and the experiences that have followed have changed my life and taught me a lot of lessons.
Two of the biggest lessons that I've learned are these…
- Frequency breeds familiarity and familiarity breeds trust. We need to spend more time doing life alongside those that we have biases towards. The more time you spend doing life alongside someone and solving problems together, the more you’ll get to know that person. And the more you get to know that person and learn how much you guys actually have in common, you’ll begin to have each others back and begin to trust each other where there once was no trust at all.
- Once you strip all the BS away, there are really only two sides to this thing called life and that’s good and evil. And its all the good people versus all the evil people. If you’re on the side of good then we can rock. We can figure out all the logistics as to how we rock, as long as I know you’re one of the good guys.