GARDEN CITY, Ga. -- A South Georgia officer who wrote a now-viral Facebook post about a traffic stop is still getting used to being in the spotlight, but said the outpouring of support he's felt after the experience has been overwhelming.
In early October, Lt. Tim McMillian with the Garden City Police Department, near Savannah, Ga., was just finishing up his shift when he spotted a car driving unsafely on the roads. Initially he thought it was a drunk driver, but it turned out to be a young African-American man who had been texting and driving.
McMillian pulled the car over, and what happened next touched the hearts of thousands of people across the world. The young man, he said, was terrified and visibly shaken. He asked McMillian if he wanted him to get out of the car, and the officer was caught off guard.
"No, I don't want you to text and drive," he recounted in the post. "I don't want you to get in a wreck. I want your mom to always have her baby boy."
He told the young man, who wasn't identified over privacy concerns, he simply wanted him to get home safely to his mom, and let him go. Shortly after, he took to Facebook to share his frustrations at the encounter in a post that’s now reached nearly a quarter-million people.
11Alive spoke to McMillian on Tuesday to see how his life has changed since becoming an internet sensation.
“I started getting messages – very emotional, very heartfelt messages – from fathers, mothers, teens,” he told 11Alive’s Adrianne Haney. They poured in from all over, McMillian said, from Chicago to Detroit to New York, even to Canada, Australian and Africa. “These were people opening up to me.”
McMillian said he was taken aback by the emotional responses to what took place during the traffic stop, because in his eyes, he didn’t say anything revolutionary.
“I just said you should care about other people. I said it’s not right for a kid to be so scared that he’s going to die in your presence,” he said. “If those simple words and me saying that meant that much to them, there’s a problem.”
WEB EXTRA | Interview with Lt. Tim McMillian
McMillian said he’s still adjusting to being thrust in the spotlight. After the post went viral he said he wanted to answer everybody and “wanted to make it better for everybody.” When he couldn’t keep up with the flood of communication on his personal Facebook page, he created a fan page where people have been posting encouraging thoughts for the officer.
“A lot of the words people have sent me have changed my life,” McMillian said. A life that’s still getting back to normal for the officer.
Just a few days after the traffic stop, Hurricane Matthew slammed into the Georgia coast, forcing evacuations. McMillian and several officers from the department stayed behind, but ironically it was during the chaos of a hurricane that he was able to find a moment to reflect on the actions he took that put the whole chain of events in motion.
Photos | Aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Georgia
“It gave me an opportunity for the first time to decompress and deal with the things I had hadn’t had the chance to deal with,” he said.
For the 13-year police veteran and father, the actions he took were motivated by the type of policing he’s always thought was the best way to do his job. McMillian said he always tells his officers that they have to be selfless and approach the job with humility.
“Be nice until you can’t be nice anymore,” he said. “Do things for how it makes you feel and not necessarily a medal.”
That’s why McMillian said when the post did go viral, he and his officers were confused. “What I’m saying on Facebook is what I’ve been saying all along,” he said. “If I put you before me and you put me before you, we’re good.”
At the heart of the issue, McMillian said, it’s about being human and treating each other with the utmost respect, something he said is not always felt by some communities.
“For a lot of people in minority communities, they never felt like someone would stand up and say their children should not be scared,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much of our population didn’t feel equal or feel like someone would not go on the line for them, and that blows my mind, and that is sad. That brings tears to my eyes.”
As for how the state of things can improve between police and the communities police: “Don’t buy in to the narrative people are at war with the police,” he said. “I’ve gotten treated better by the public in these last three years that I have in my entire career.”
Through it all, McMillian said he’s developed really close friends out of the experience and is happy that his words and actions resonated with so many people.
“At the end of the day, there’s two types of people – those that sit around and say somebody needs to do something, and then the type of people that say I’m going to do something,” he said. “I felt like I wanted to do the latter.”
(© 2016 WXIA)