A chance encounter leads to a frank discussion and mutual respect

 

Bill, Mike and Sam.

By WNLP’s Mike Kellems
I had a great encounter last week while working and wanted to share it with our loyal readers. I was on the afternoon security shift on a beautiful Friday at the Purdue Northwest campus just north of Westville. As I was making a pass around the parking lots I saw two guys playing 1-on-1 basketball on the courts at the south end of the campus.

Mike Kellems

As I drove past the courts, I slowed to wave and they both walked toward the fence to greet me. Now, anyone who knows my sense of humor has to know what came out of my mouth next: I shouted out the window of the police car, “I’ll take either of you on and I know I’ll win! In fact if I lose, you can take the squad car for a ride!” This brought a lot of laughter, yet they were ready for the challenge and shouted back, “bring it!”

I hopped out of the car and headed for the court and just as I got there, I told them that I really couldn’t play due to an old knee injury. Neither of them bought it. The pair challenged each other to shooting 3-pointers and I told them that since they were good sports about my no-challenge / challenge, I’d buy them a Gatorade.
Both of these young men were Black. When I returned from a local gas station with the Gatorade, I revealed my ulterior motive: I asked if they could spare a few minutes to chat with me about race, their opinions of police officers, and the current state of affairs in America. I told them they should feel free to say anything and I’d give them a straightforward answer to any questions they had. I asked them to be brutally honest and assured them they’d get the same in return.
Being a policeman means I’m always curious, and it has also been my experience that what the news is reporting out there in the “real world” isn’t necessarily what’s happening locally. I wanted to hear their take.
I learned that Billy was 20 and had grown up on the south side of Chicago. Billy’s girlfriend, Linsey, was with him and joined us for the conversation. Sam was 18 and while he had grown up in La Porte, he had also lived in St. Louis for several years.
Billy readily admitted to having had negative encounters with law enforcement. Despite that, he was hoping to land a job working for the Indiana Department of Correction. Billy told of a recent incident where he was stopped by police for a speeding violation and felt he was targeted because of the color of his skin. He said he felt the officer was unfriendly and didn’t want to listen. He was quick to say that he believed there are plenty of good police, but some are bad. He said he tries hard not to judge all police officers because of the bad encounters he had.
While Sam didn’t offer any details of negative encounters with law enforcement, he did say that he was jaded by the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and more recently in Minneapolis.
Both Sam and Billy felt that racism is still common.
They talked very openly about religion and their Christian beliefs, and asked if I was a Christian. They asked if I had read the Bible. (I have; I’m on my second time through.) Billy, who was the more talkative, said he believed one needs to work through the Bible very slowly and be as analytical as possible because the lessons found are so in depth. We all agreed that it’s amazing that the teachings found in the Bible, written thousands of years ago, are just as relevant today.
Then a real-life revelation came: I was shocked to learn that late last year, in Lansing, Illinois, both Billy and Linsey were shot during a drive-by while they were sitting in their car. They both recovered, but a bullet remains lodged in Linsey’s lower leg.
In all, we spent about 45 minutes chatting. I mostly listened and tried to learn from them. I’m thankful to have had this opportunity. I think we all left with a mutual respect and understanding of one another. And I was truly moved by Billy’s parting words: As I rolled away in the squad car, he called out, “Be safe, and thank you for your service.”
I don’t know if we will ever cross paths again. I don’t know if they’ll see this story. If they happen to read this, thank you, Billy, Sam and Linsey. I appreciated the time we spent and the frank discussion. I appreciate your parting words. Please, you be safe as well.

15 Responses to “A chance encounter leads to a frank discussion and mutual respect”

  1. Left LaPorte

    May 29. 2021

    Great story Mike – we need more passionate people like you! If more people want to connect with others, we should listen to understand their view points. We can’t undo all of the bad things in this great country’s past, but we can work to improve it going forward.

    I was raised in LaPorte when things were more simple, but never understood the issues of race until I was in middle and high school. If politicians would stop sensationalizing race and focus on fixing issues, they might understand how America and our world is changing!

    Reply to this comment
  2. Tim

    May 29. 2021

    A wonderful story, thank you for sharing.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Richard Craig Weigel

    May 29. 2021

    And you gained my respect! You talked with and so many people just talk at. We see the result of talking at in our polarized society. Good story and thanks for sharing

    Reply to this comment
  4. Betty Wolff

    May 29. 2021

    Awesome story. God bless those young people and also you sir. Thank you for your service.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Greg Fruth

    May 29. 2021

    A wonderful encounter! Breaking barriers just takes a smile and a sincere heart.

    Reply to this comment
  6. K. Rex Butts

    May 29. 2021

    Thank you for sharing this story and more importantly, for having the courage to be vulnerable by risking this conversation. Our society needs more conversations like this. As someone who grew up in LaPorte, it is nice to read news like this taking place in my hometown.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Anita M.

    May 29. 2021

    And let it begin with all of us! This is a truly great meeting and sharing message. We can only hope and pray for more healing among us all. It has been said, “Let each one reach one.” One step at a time, one day at a time and one person at a time.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Ron Brauer

    May 29. 2021

    Thank you for sharing this meeting with these people. Yes, they were curious, and your charm and approachability meant much to them. They saw you as human and compassionate. We need more of these qualities these days. While you may not see these people again, you have impressed this story to share, and they may pick it up and realize that each made an impression on the others, including yourself.

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  9. Greg Kelver

    May 30. 2021

    Well done Mike. Party politics on both sides continues to fuel the fire between BLM and police. But the only way things will ever get fixed in this country is with the type of individual soul searching and conversation you engaged in with those two young men. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Reply to this comment
    • G.Gottio

      May 30. 2021

      Thanks Mike great read for a chance meeting..

      Party politics has nothing to do with anything..
      Live life respect don’t think the Country owes u anything

      There are good people out there White,Black,etc

      You succeed on your own doing …

      Reply to this comment
  10. Susan

    May 30. 2021

    Thanks for sharing your special encounter with the two young men. I forwarded it to my aunt in Virginia and she thought it was great, too!

    Reply to this comment
  11. Myrna

    May 31. 2021

    I really enjoyed this. All of your articles are very interesting and I look forward to reading your next one.

    Reply to this comment
  12. Karen Matthews

    Jun 02. 2021

    Thank you for taking the time to reach out and connect. We all need to talk, share, listen and understand each other, and above all, be KIND!

    Reply to this comment
  13. Deb

    Jun 04. 2021

    Setting a Great example ! Thanks for sharing .

    Reply to this comment
  14. Michael McDermott

    Jun 04. 2021

    hopefully one day Mike, everyone will just see people and not color. Its funny when you just talk to people what you learn…good job

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