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.