Peter St. Onge

When Marley high-fived Officer Evett

CMPD officer Scott Evett and 3-year-old Marley Cox.
CMPD officer Scott Evett and 3-year-old Marley Cox. COURTESY OF GREG COX

A couple of families went out to dinner together the other night in the University area.

One family was white, the other black.

One father was a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer with 19 years on the force, most of them spent working neighborhoods on the east side.

The other father was a music teacher from Wilson, where he remembers some family members having bad interactions with police.

They sat at a round restaurant table, two couples and three daughters, including 3-year-old Marley, who got this all started.

Last month, while Greg Cox and his family packed for a vacation, Marley played with a ball outside their east Charlotte home. The ball got away and into the street, where it rolled in front of a CMPD vehicle.

Officer Scott Evett was in the passenger’s seat. He and partner Harlan Proctor were looking for a robbery suspect, but they saw the girl, stopped the car and got the ball.

Cox made sure Marley said thank you. Evett held out his hand for a high-five. Cox grabbed his phone just in time to capture the moment.

Later, on vacation, Cox looked at the picture and liked the story it told. He posted it on Facebook, and a few likes quickly turned into a couple hundred, including Stacey Evett, who thanked Cox in a comment for showing a side of her husband that she knew so well.

She also thanked him for “shedding some positive light on police.”

By then, Ferguson was still smoldering eight months after Michael Brown’s death. The next day, on April 12, a Baltimore man named Freddie Gray would get arrested and die in police custody.

Soon after, Stacey and Scott Evett decided to do something more. They reached out to Cox and his wife, Jasmine. How about we get together?

They met for dinner about a week ago. No one knew what to expect, really. “We try to make an effort to get to know people in the community,” Scott Evett says now about his police work. But this was about more than work. “I’d never done this before,” he says.

Cox, who’s probably the most outgoing of the group, broke the ice right away by teaching Evett and his girls, Kayla and Camryn, some hip-hop terminology.

“You know how in the old days when something was really good, you called it dope or fresh?” Cox explains.

In the “old days”?

“Now you say, ‘Man, that’s Ralph level,’” he says. “Scott’s girls, they liked that.”

By the time the families got their burgers, they were talking about family things – about friends and school and parenting.

They talked about work, too. Scott told Greg about the passion he has for being a police officer, how he sometimes can’t believe he gets paid for something he loves so much. Greg said he felt the same way about music.

It’s not surprising what they found – that they share more things than they don’t. It’s something many of us know, if only because we see those same things every day in the people we come across – our co-workers and customers, our kids’ teachers, pretty much anyone we take the time to talk to.

That’s not so easy to remember sometimes, when things like Ferguson or Baltimore happen and everyone is focusing on differences. “It’s almost like you have to pick a side, right?” Cox says now.

Instead, on this night, a couple of families picked something different.

They didn’t solve Ferguson, and they didn’t fix Baltimore. They weren’t trying to change the world.

The best change we can make, really, is to broaden our own perspectives. By seeing the story a picture is telling. By inviting someone completely new to the table. “It was great,” Greg Cox says. “Pretty cool,” Scott Evett says. Maybe even Ralph level.

Peter: pstonge@charlotteobserver.com; @saintorange

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