Late Thursday last week, Virginia state trooper Matt Okes pulled over on a deserted road by a Mercedes-Benz and got down on his knees to help the car's passengers change a flat tire. The officer was just doing his job, but, touched that Okes did not resort to racial stereotypes in dealing with her son, one Virginia mom posted on Facebook thanking the cop for his kindness and unexpected lack of prejudice.
Nada Owusu took to social media to express her gratitude, writing that Okes not only did not ask her son, Joseph, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student, if the car was stolen, he personally tried to change the flat tire himself, as CBS News reported. When that failed, Okes stayed with the both of them until AAA arrived and fixed the tire hours later. Owusu also attached a photo of a smiling Okes and Joseph in the post.
She later told The New York Daily News:
"What really impressed me is not just the fact that he tried to change the tire, which I didn't even know police did. What touched me more was that he didn't leave him on that road, where he could have been hit by another car. As a mother, that really meant a lot to me."
Okes went the extra mile to ensure their safety that night, but he also did something seemingly extraordinary, as noted by Owusu — he didn't succumb to the kind of racial stereotypes that we often hear police officers are prone to. The incident is particularly resonant at this moment, as the national debate surrounding racial injustice and policing tactics takes center stage to become one of the most pressing social issues of our time.
As distressing photos emerge in the past year from protests in Ferguson, New York City and now Baltimore, it's clear that there are many things that need to change about the way the police interact with the communities they serve.
But Okes, like his actions, shows that there is vast potential for a transformation.