Finding Good Trouble

Chapter 4

"Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America."    -The Honorable John Lewis speaking atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 1, 2020


“Parker!” I was awakened when my father hollered upstairs. I glanced quickly at the clock. It was 10:26.

I went to the door and yelled, “Yeah, Dad? What do you want?”

“Come downstairs,” he insisted, and then added, “And bring your phone.” I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was angry. I grabbed my phone and headed downstairs.

I stopped when I reached the bottom and noticed Chief Morgan standing in the entry with a smug look on his face. I looked at my father and asked, “What’s he want.”

Chief Morgan approached with his hand out. “I want your phone, Parker.” I looked again at my father.

Dad held up a piece of paper. “He has a warrant to confiscate it.” Dad looked angrily over at Morgan, but Morgan didn’t notice.

I pleaded with my father. “Do I have to?”

“Yes,” said Morgan sternly. He looked down at the paper in my father’s hand. “A judge ordered a warrant for you to turn it over. It is evidence in a criminal case.”

I started to protest, but my father grabbed me by my arm. “Do it, Parker,” he ordered. “I’ll call my lawyer in the morning and see what we can do to get it back.”

“I can tell you now,” replied Morgan. “Your boy doesn’t get his phone back until after this is all over.” He looked at me and smugly smiled as I handed him the phone.

I slapped it into this outstretched hand, turned and stormed back upstairs. “Asshole!” I muttered loud enough for him to hear.

He replied with a laugh, “Have a nice night, Parker.” I slammed my door shut and sat on the edge of my bed.

“Fucker,” I muttered. “What a fucking asshole. Now I see why people hate cops so much.” It was true. All my life I had respected police officers. Most encounters I had were friendly. Tonight, I saw a different side. I thought back to Andrews and the guy he had beaten. I was also beginning to wonder if Morgan supported what he had done. He had certainly given that impression when we were in the police station earlier. He didn’t even know all the facts, but he was already trying to defend Andrew’s actions. One thing I was certain about- I knew what I had witnessed. Morgan could take my phone, but he couldn’t shut me up.

I stripped off my clothes and crawled into bed. I kept tossing and turning. In one day, my life had changed so much. But if my life had changed, I could only imagine how it had changed for the black guy Andrews beat senseless on the street. I wondered if he was okay. Was he in the hospital? Was he in pain lying in a jail cell? Had his father made bond, and now he was like me, trying to sleep.

I looked over at the door when I heard a light tap. “Come in!” I hollered out. My father opened the door and walked in. He walked softly over the side of my bed and sat down.

“You okay, Parker?” he asked as he gripped my arm.

“Yeah, Dad,” I answered sarcastically. “It’s been a great day.”

He let out a deep sigh. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, Parker,” he said as he gripped my arm tighter. “I want you to stay home tomorrow,” he insisted. I wasn’t about to argue. I had considered skipping school anyway. I didn’t want to answer a barrage of questions from my friends.

He continued, “I’ve called my secretary, and I’ve canceled my appointments for tomorrow. Thank God I didn’t have a surgery scheduled. We’ll meet with Mr. Abrams, my attorney, and see if we can sort all this out.”

I nodded and asked, “What about my phone?”

My father laughed. “Is that all you kids today think about is your phone?”

“Well, duh,” I smiled. “It’s our lifeline.”

“Well,” he started, “When I was your age…”

“I know, Dad,” I laughed. “You still had flip phones and played Pac Man.” He laughed and shoved me gently on my shoulder.

“Hey,” he grinned. “I was the grand champion in my neighborhood.”

“Bet I can kick your ass in Minecraft,” I responded. I laughed harder when he asked, “What’s that.”

He patted my arm and said, “Try to get some sleep, Parker.”

“I’ll try, Dad.”

He rose and headed for the door. Suddenly, he stopped and turned. “And another thing.”

“Yeah, Dad?”

“When we get through at Abrams office, we’ll stop and get you a new phone.”

“Thanks, Dad.” He nodded and closed the door.

It took about an hour to fall asleep. The adrenaline I had felt all day was beginning to subside, and it made me restless. I finally managed to fall asleep, but I kept awakening about every hour.

When I went downstairs in the morning, my mother was busy preparing breakfast. Early morning is about the only time I get to spend a few minutes with her during the week. She’s an executive vice president of a leading insurance company. She is usually in meetings all day and doesn’t get home until after seven. She stops by my room and chats for a few minutes, but then she heads to her bedroom, closes the door and isn’t see again until morning. We spend Saturday morning shopping at the malls. That is one of the reasons I’m one of the best dressed students at Somerset. It isn’t that I want clothes. She enjoys taking me around to all the shops to find clothes that she thinks I look good in.

Of course, the drawback is, I must sit while she tries on a dozen dresses and give her my opinion. She likes that I’m honest. If I think a dress makes her look fat, I’ll tell her. However, she looks good in anything she wears. Before she met Dad, she worked for a modeling agency while she worked her way through college. She hasn’t lost her looks or body. My friends comment all the time that they think she looks more like my sister than my mother.

She turned and kissed me on my cheek. “Did you sleep well, Honey,” she asked with a concerned look.

“Not really,” I replied.

“It’s understandable,” she replied as she patted my face. “After that horrible incident yesterday…” she trailed off as she turned and flipped the pancakes in the skillet.

I asked, “Where’s Dad?” He is usually drinking coffee and reading the newspaper when I enter the kitchen.

“He’s making a few phone calls,” she answered. “He’ll be here soon.”

As if he heard us, he entered the room. He asked me if I was able to sleep. I gave him the same answer I gave mom. He nodded and took a sip of coffee. He then opened the newspaper.

My mother and I jumped when he hollered out, “Goddamn it!”

“What’s wrong, Jonathan?”

“This!” he said angrily as he held up the front page of the newspaper. My heart stopped when I saw a picture that had been captured from the video. It showed Andrews with his boot pressed against the black guy’s face.

I asked worriedly, “How did they get that picture?”

He frowned and replied, “From your video, of course. There are probably pictures in newspapers all over the country this morning.”

“I’m sorry, Dad,” I apologized. “I shouldn’t have posted that video to Facebook. I was just mad after what I saw.”

“It’s not your fault, Son,” he tried to reassure me. “You had no idea what something like this could do.” He looked at the picture and shook his head. He picked up the paper and began reading the article.

He again shouted, “Goddamn it!”

My mother set a plate of pancakes in front of him. “What’s wrong now, Jonathan?”

He looked at me and frowned. “They’ve mentioned your name.”

“What!” I shrieked. “How did they know it was me?”

“How do you think,” my father replied sarcastically. “It is your Facebook page.”

“But I deleted it last night,” I replied.

“That doesn’t matter,” he said. “Your name was still on the video, even after you deleted it.” I sunk back in my chair.

“Shit,” I muttered.  I didn’t feel like eating. I took a couple of sips from my orange juice, and I ate just a mouthful of the two pancakes before me. I looked over at my father and asked, “What’s going to happen now?”

“I honestly don’t know,” he replied. “Look what happened when George Floyd was killed. That young girl captured that video on her phone, too.”

“Yeah, but George Floyd died,” I reminded him. I hadn’t followed the incident, but I do remember the cop being tried for his murder. I remember some students talking about how he had been found guilty of murder. “This can’t be the same thing, can it?”

“I don’t know,” he said worriedly. “Things are happening all over the country over race.” He held up the paper again. “Something like this can bring a lot of bad publicity to Somerset.”

My mother said, “I hope not.”

“Me, too,” I replied. “But don’t you think maybe something should happen? Look what he did to that guy.” I pointed to the picture laying on the table.

“This is a matter for the courts,” my father insisted. “We don’t need protesters stirring up trouble.”

“It may be too late,” I replied. I told him how there were protesters outside the school yesterday morning. They were angry about what had happened at the game on Saturday. I then told him that the guy who had been beaten had been one of the speakers.

“Shit,” he hissed. He reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a business card. “That explains this.”

“What is it?”

“Remember that guy at the police station who wants to speak to you?” I nodded my head. “He’s Reverend Darrell Moore.”

“What’s that mean?’

“He’s a big civil rights leader in the state. I’ve attended a few conferences where he was a guest speaker.”

“Okay, so?”

Dad picked up the paper. “He said this is his son.”

“That’s not good, is it?”

“I’m afraid not, Parker,” replied my father. “This could develop into a big problem.” He rose from his chair. “I better go give Abrams another call.”

I looked over at my mother. “What does all this mean?”

“Don’t they teach you anything at school?” she asked angrily. “If they did, you wouldn’t be asking me that.”

“They teach us a lot,” I replied. “I’ve been accepted to two universities.”

“I don’t mean that,” she responded as she rolled her eyes. “Didn’t you discuss racial problems in America?”

“Not really,” I said. “We’re all white. We don’t have a problem.”

“Jesus, Parker,” she said angrily. “I give up.” She stood and looked down at me. “I think you’re going to get a quick education in racism.” She picked up the newspaper, looked at the picture and slammed it down on the table. “You really don’t understand what you’ve done here.”

“I didn’t do anything!” I shouted.

“No, you didn’t,” she replied worriedly. “But others are going to take the opportunity to protest this video.” She began cleaning the table and putting dishes in the dishwasher. I watched her for a minute and then quietly retreated to my room.

Dad came to my room a half hour later and told me to get in the car. Mom had already left when I went downstairs. Dad’s Mercedes was in the driveway when I headed out the door. “Where are we going?” I asked as I got in the car.

“We have a couple of places to go this morning,” he replied. “We’re meeting my attorney, Mr. Abrams, at his office. Then, we have to stop by your school for a meeting with Mr. Nettleman.”

“Why do we have to meet Nettleman?”

“He called this morning and requested a meeting,” he informed me. “It’s probably a CYA meeting.”

“What’s a CYA meeting?”

He laughed and replied, “Cover your ass. He probably wants to tell you how bad a boy you were for posting that video, and then tell you how badly it reflects on the school and our community.”

“It does reflect badly,” I agreed. “Besides, I didn’t start this. Those morons Saturday at the game did.”

“Just be careful what you say,” he warned. “Let me do all the talking.” I nodded my head, but I didn’t know if I could. If Nettleman started blaming me for all the trouble, I was prepared to fight back.

Mr. Abrams is a short, fat man. When he shook my hand, I had to wipe it dry when he turned away. His hand was cold and clammy. “Have a seat,” he ordered as we entered his office. He looked like a dwarf sitting behind his large, ornate desk. I had to stifle a laugh.

“What do you think, Louis?” my father asked.

He thumbed through some papers and shook his head. “It doesn’t look too good,” he replied. He glanced over at me. “Right now, there isn’t anything I can do to get Parker’s phone back. It was seized with a legal warrant by a judge. It could be months or a year before it is returned to him.” I didn’t say anything. I knew when Sheriff Morgan took it, I would probably never see it again.

He leaned forward and spoke very authoritatively. “There is another matter we should deal with, however.” He looked at my father. “We spoke about this on the phone.” My father nodded.

He then turned to me. “Parker, I don’t want you to talk to anyone about the video, do you understand?” He held up the morning newspaper. “This is a very sensitive issue, and you shouldn’t be discussing this, especially the media,” he warned. “If anyone approaches you about this, you tell them they have to talk to your attorney.” He opened his desk drawer and handed me a handful of his business cards. “Give them one of these.”

“I don’t understand,” I said as I looked at his card. “Why can’t I say anything?”

He sat back in his chair and replied, “I’m sure this young man is going to sue the sheriff’s department for excessive force and for other violations. If he does, you will become a material witness. Any public statements you make can be used in court.”

“Shit,” I hissed. It never occurred to me that something like this could happen. I was a witness, but I hadn’t considered I might have to testify about it in court.

Abrams leaned forward. “This is a serious matter, Parker,” he stated emphatically. “You can’t discuss this with anyone but me and your parents unless I am present. Do you understand?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I understand.”

He turned to my father. “I’m going to contact Reverend Moore, since you said he wants to meet with Parker personally. Again, we have to be careful how we approach this.”

My father rose and shook Abram’s hand. “Thank you, Louis.” When Abrams reached for my hand, I stepped back and waved goodbye.

We next headed to the high school. I really didn’t see any reason I had to see Nettleman. What I had done was outside of school. I was on my way home, and it didn’t concern the school. When we approached, there were twice the number of protesters as the day before.

Dad slowed down as we passed the protesters. They weren’t unruly or violent. Many were holding BLM signs, and a young girl was speaking into a bullhorn. Since classes were already in session, there were no students from my school engaging with them. I looked for the guy who had been beaten by Anderson, but I didn’t see him in the crowd.

“I hope it doesn’t get out of hand,” my dad remarked as we drove by.

I replied, “It won’t if people leave them alone. They have every right to protest.”

“That’s true, Son,” my father said, “but things are different today. Everyone has something to say.”

“But wasn’t it that way in the 60’s and 70’s?” I asked. “We saw a movie in history a couple of years ago on the civil rights movement. It didn’t look like things weren’t all that peaceful then.”

“You have a point,” he replied. “I’m not old enough to really remember. All I know is things seemed to be getting better. I’m not sure what the hell happened to make it worse.”

“Maybe it was better for us,” I said. “Maybe it wasn’t better for them. Maybe they just got tired of all the bullshit.” I looked over at Dad, and he nodded.

When we entered the office, Mrs. Harper, the school secretary told us Mr. Nettleman was waiting for us.

“Jonathan,” said Nettleman as he smiled and extended his hand to my father. He glanced quickly at me and sat down.

My father sounded irritated when he asked, “What’s this all about Carl?” Everyone in town knows my father, and he is on a first name basis with many. I think some are afraid that they may someday have to visit his office for medical reasons, so they wanted him to know them personally.

He looked over at me. “Your boy here, Jonathan…”

My father quickly interrupted him. “This ‘boy’ has a name.”

“Of course,” Nettleman replied. “Parker has put the school in a very difficult situation.”

“Parker’s done nothing,” my father responded angrily. “The students here at Somerset created the problem last Saturday night at the game.”

“Well,” Nettleman continued as if he hadn’t heard my father. “The protests across the street were beginning to die down until Parker posted that video to his Facebook account.”

My father stood and looked down angrily at Nettleman. He appeared to cower in this large leather chair. “If you are trying to blame my son for the current situation that the school is in, you had better call in your attorneys.” He slammed his fist down on the desk, causing Nettleman to jump slightly. “Parker did what any good citizen should have done. He’s not going to take the blame because you can’t control your students.”

“This is a serious situation, Jonathan,” replied Nettleman in a calmer tone. “I’m not trying to place the blame on Parker. I’m just saying that what he did has had a negative impact on the school’s image.”

I looked over as my father sat back and roared with laughter. “Negative impact on the school’s image? Are you being serious?”

“We can’t take more bad press,” replied Nettleman.

“It’s a little too late for that,” said my father. “I would say about fifty years too late. What have you got here, Carl? About ten or fifteen black students?”

Nettleman’s face reddened as he muttered, “One.”

“Well, there then is your problem,” stated Dad. “You’ve been principal here at Somerset for about nine years, haven’t you?”

“Eleven,” answered Nettleman.

“In those eleven years, have you made any attempt to diversify the student population here?”

“I have no control over who moves into our district,” he replied.

“I’m not asking that,” replied Dad. “I’m asking if the school district has done anything to make our schools appear open to diversity? I’ve had African American patients tell me they are afraid to move to Somerset and send their children here because they are afraid for their safety. Have you made any attempt to dispel that fear?”

Nettleman became more agitated. “That’s not my job, Jonathan. I’m just a principal. That is something that the superintendent’s office oversees.”

“They aren’t doing a very good job then, are they?” asked my father. “If they were, then the scene we saw play out Saturday night wouldn’t have occurred. Would it?”

Nettleman sat up and said proudly, “Somerset has fine schools. We are rated one of the best in the state.” He looked over at me. “Your son, Parker, receives a fine education. From what I’ve heard, he has several universities offering him scholastic scholarships.”

“I won’t argue that Somerset does a good job educating students,” replied Dad. “But don’t you think that there should be more black students being offered that same education?”

“They have their own schools,” remarked Nettleman angrily. “It’s not my fault they are inferior.”

Nettleman jumped when my father rose and slammed his hand down on the desk. “There is the problem,” he shouted angrily. “It’s that mentality that caused the outbreak at the game Saturday night. You’ve taught these kids that they are better than anyone else.”

Nettleman rose from his chair. “Don’t you dare imply that I’m a racist.”

“I’m not implying it,” spat my father. “I’m telling you that you are a racist.”

Nettleman’s face turned a bright red from anger. “Get out of my office!” he shouted as he pointed toward the door.”

“With pleasure,” my father said with a smirk. Before we exited, he turned and warned, “If you try to do anything to my son, I’ll sue you and this school for every penny you have.”

He slammed the door shut and stormed down the hallway with me trailing behind.


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