Recently, I had quite the experience. I woke up early to drive my oldest brother to the Outpatient Mental Health VA in Tampa Florida. We sat in the chairs at the back when an older black gentleman walked up to get help from one of the windows. All of a sudden he started yelling through the window at the black lady from behind the window. He stood up and became very agitated. She was insisting he had to get back in line, so he did, which placed him standing up in line directly behind me, still ranting, and squarely behind my neck and shoulders as I sat in my chair. My mind was whirling, “What should I do? If I move to the next set of chairs that might agitate him more, if I continue sitting here I’m gonna’ feel extremely uncomfortable, and I’m sure my brother wouldn’t have let anything be done to me, but would that get him in trouble?” So, I turned my chair on angle and started talking with him. The first thing I said was, “I know this is about Respect, but it’ll be okay.” His eyes soften and lit up a bit. I continue to chat with him in a calm and empathetic voice.
When it was his turn to go to the same window where his agitation started he got even more agitated and started crying and wailing to Jesus, and saying he needed to see his Doctor. The military police stepped in, and now I felt like I couldn’t continue sitting near the ruckus. I got up and headed out the door to get my smart phone, which I had forgotten because it was still attached to the auxiliary plug in my car for directions to get there. On my way back in, now there was a crowd of 10 to 12 people outside with the older black gentleman in the middle. There were two Military Police who were trying to corral him just outside the automatic doors and in between parked cars. The agitated man was shouting to just kill him, get his doctor, and to leave him alone. The crowd was shouting things and trying to help. Next, I saw the Military Police move in on him, they grabbed him from behind and the struggle started getting violent. I know I should have just stood back, but I moved in view of the older black gentleman and made eye contact with him again. I said in a loud but calm voice, “I know this is about Respect, but you’re confused, they are not disrespecting you, they are trying to help you.” Then I said in an even louder voice, “You have to stop struggling, PLEASE!” My word, “Please” was as pleading and begging as I could make it. He eyes immediately soften and he stopped struggling. The police were able to cuff him without bringing him to the ground, which is where I’m sure he was headed just before I stepped in his view. The one black police officer looked to me and said into the black gentleman’s ear, “It’s okay, your doctor is here.” He was referring to me, I said, “No I’m not his doctor.” And I swear a thought bubble popped up in my head to say, “But I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night.” But the situation was far too intense to do that. I just turned to walk away, and I got a few nods of approval from the crowd that was easily a majority of black people.
An hour and half later after I sat in with my brother for his appointment and we were walking out, the black Military Police officer stepped in front of me just before the automatic doors. I thought, “Oh crap, I’m gonna’ get in trouble for stepping in like I did earlier.” But instead he just said, “I wanted to thank you for what you did earlier.” I was taken aback, and said, “Oh…uh, sure… How is he?” He said he was fine and that they had gotten him to the Emergency Room safe and sound. I touched his arm lightly and made him twist a bit so I could see his badge. It said, C Meyers. “Thank you Officer Meyers, have a Vantastic Day!” Moral of the Story: Things aren’t always so Black and White, and sometimes a little RESPECT goes a LONG way.