By Daniel J. Vance
After meeting Paul Pike last year at a disability conference, I couldn't get his story out of my mind.
So recently I looked him up. “I was born in Liberia, West Africa,” he said in a telephone interview. “When my mom learned she had twins, she went to a witch doctor. Since my mother had enough food for only one of us, the witch doctor had to choose which of us would starve.”
Paul, who had cerebral palsy, was chosen. But instead of starving him, his birth mother gave Paul away to white American missionaries visiting her village.
That was 31 years ago. Since then, though on the whole enjoying the U.S., Paul at times has struggled being a black person with cerebral palsy in a white neighborhood. Cerebral palsy affects muscle coordination and often the person with it has slurred speech.
He told this story:
“It was in the summer about 8:30 at night,” he began, “and I was hungry for ice cream at the McDonald's up the street. I was 16. Walking back home, I was holding the uneaten ice cream cone and swaying to music on my earphones. I sat on our front stoop to eat. Soon, I noticed a number of police cars driving by.
“Then I saw a police car parked across the street and I stepped out into the yard to look closer. Turning back toward the stoop, suddenly I heard, 'Freeze! Put your hands up, now!' When I did that, they said, 'Get on the ground, now!'
“I was nervous and couldn't speak so he could understand me. They put me in handcuffs and into a squad car. There were five squad cars. They asked for my identification.”
“A policeman said, 'Were you drinking?'
“No sir, I wasn't.
“He said, 'You are slow with your words.'
“I am when I'm scared. I have a disability, cerebral palsy.
“We don't believe you.”
In time, Paul persuaded the police to knock on his door, and soon his white brother answered. It was an embarrassing moment, because nearly everyone in the neighborhood had streamed outside seeing Paul in handcuffs. To the police, Paul was a drunken young black male seemingly out of place in a white neighborhood. And this wasn't the only time he has been questioned.
As for work, Paul has been employed at a chain store lumberyard for eight years.
For more, see danieljvance.com. [This column made possible by a grant from Blue Valley Sod, www.bluevalleysod.com]