Racial Profiling at the Elementary School

Normally I put up a poem on Sundays, but my friend, Christine Scheller, wrote a provocative piece in “Urban Faith” about why more conservative news outlets weren’t covering the Trayvon Martin shooting. I realized that this tragic story reminds me of something that happened several years ago at my children’s elementary school.

All the names have been changed, including a few details, but the facts are the facts.

Mr. Riggs always came early to pick up his daughter, Shakayla, from Forest View Elementary School. He would arrive 30 minutes to an hour before school let out and rest in his pickup until she came out.

I usually got to the school about 10 minutes before school let out, and sometimes Mr. Riggs and I would visit. There was another father, Jack, a stay-at-home dad, who also arrived early, sometime between Mr. Riggs and me, and the three of us would often chat.

Mr. Riggs told me his first name, but I didn’t catch it. I remember that he was in Desert Storm. He was a photographer. He was honorably discharged with PTSD. He and his wife had been married for 20-something years, and in addition to Shakayla, they had one child in middle school and another in high school.

One day when I got to the school, I saw a police car there. We never had police cars at our school. I saw Mr. Riggs in his truck, and I went over to ask him what happened.

Mr. Riggs was crying. Did I mention he was about 6-foot-4 and in great shape?

It took him a few tries to get out the story, but it seems that the lawn maintenance crew for the school — an all-Hispanic crew — had called the police to report Mr. Riggs for “loitering.”

“Would you please tell that officer that I am here every day. Every day!” Mr. Riggs said.

“Of course,” I said.

I started walking to the police car, scared out of my mind. I’d never talked with the police except for the time I was pulled over for speeding at age 18. Here I was, in the middle of a bona fide racial incident. At that moment I was the only person who could vouch for Mr. Riggs.

“Excuse me, officer?” I said, coming up to police car.

The officer rolled down the window. “Yes, ma’am?”

“Hi. My name is Megan Willome. My son and daughter go to school here. I just wanted to say that I know Mr. Riggs — the man in the truck. His daughter, Shakayla, is in my son’s class. He’s here every day. He comes early to wait for her. I don’t know why he comes early. But he doesn’t bother anyone. We talk sometimes.”

The officer thanked me for coming over and said he would make a note of it. He asked me if anyone else could vouch for Mr. Riggs, and I mentioned Jack, who wasn’t there yet but probably would be soon.

And then I wondered if his testimony would count, since he was part-Japanese.

Comments

  1. Unbelievable. So, so sad, and infuriating.

  2. Omigosh, Megan. This one went straight to the solar plexus. The last line just made me gasp out loud. Thank you for this – we all need reminding that racism is alive and well. Maybe if we could all look honestly at our fears – get them out into the daylight – maybe we could begin to make some progress. It is insidious and ever-present and so indicative of our brokenness. Thanks so much for this.

  3. Oh, and by the way. If this piece isn’t some sort of poetry, I don’t know what is. In fact, I’d love to see you write something in true poetic form to accompany it.

  4. Rebecca Trotter says:

    I’m married to an African American man and one of the things which has been surprising to me is how hurtful and personal acts of bigotry are to the person who suffers them. I guess I always figured that it was crazy-making and could get a person angry, but that after a while it would be like water on a duck – it would just roll off. Now I know that a lot of the anger African Americans are often accused of holding onto is just a cover for being hurt. When things like this happen to someone it’s a reminder that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you work, no matter how good you are, many people will only see you as a threat or undesirable. They will never see you for you.

    My husband is also a large, strong Desert Storm vet and he walking into the house one day sobbing. It had been a long day and as he was getting out of the car he said “hi” to a little girl our neighbor was watching. He said she looked at him with abject terror and ran off. And he just lost it. “Why would she look at me like that? How would a small child even know to be afraid of someone like me?” he said. It just broke my heart. I’m crying now just remembering it.

    I have come to the conclusion that the reason we can’t seem to move past racial issues is a profound lack of empathy. I recently read an article by a smart, successful black woman who commented about being the only black person in the room all the time and how wearing it sometimes was to a couple of white girlfriends of nearly 20 years. Their response was, “no one cares about race but you. Why are you making a big deal out of it? This is why we have so many race problems.” That’s not OK. Just because the issue is race doesn’t make it OK to dismiss or pass blame on to someone who is trying to show you something of their heart.

    Thank you for sharing this!

  5. I am stunned. I know I’m naive about these things, but my heart has been broken since. Even my 15 year-old has been outraged and it’s interesting to see him struggle against injustice. Interesting in a heartbreaking, helpless kind of way.

    I love imagining you sitting and talking with these two men–knowing the respect and honor you would give. Isn’t this one thing we can do? Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor. This world is a crazy place.

  6. Sometimes Christ simply calls us to be a good neighbor. I’m so glad you were there. I’m so proud of you.

  7. deidrariggs says:

    I’m so grateful to you for talking about this. I am grateful to you for vouching for Mr. Riggs (no relation, of which I’m aware). But for some reason, I am even more grateful to you for talking about it here in this space.

  8. Wow, Megan. My heart break for all of it. Thank you for telling your story.

  9. Very sad, Megan. Unfortunately, very believable. My school and work involve a lot of time in the criminal justice system, and what you’re writing about is a disgusting fact of life in that system.