Little known fact about me: when I was in my late teens (19 or 20, I think), I was busted by my former employer for stealing. Not just “boosting a shirt” stealing. I’m talking MAJOR stealing. Thousands of dollars worth of stealing. Eventually I was caught, fired, and forced to pay restitution.

But – as I’ve come to understand over the years – the situation could have been much, much worse.

I think about all that in light of the Mike Brown story. But unlike Mike, I can tell my story. What’s odd is that in some instances, I can even make light of my past sins. But in another world, I could have easily been Mike Brown. My situation was not all that dissimilar to his. All it would’ve took was a nervous stutter (which I was known to do), a moment of backtalk to security, a quick reach into my pocket for my ID, one less person to vouch for me, or just the fact that I was a black kid from Flint, and I could have found myself arrested. Or, worse yet, I could have found myself lying dead in a pool of my own blood, baking on a hot summer street for four hours.

I can even imagine how the story would have played out in the media. “Local black kid shot while stealing from employer.” My name would’ve been dragged through the mud, while the intrepid law enforcement official with the stellar record would have been sympathized for tragically being forced to take me down as his only resort. My actions would have been thoroughly scrutinized. Maybe I lunged at him when he caught me stealing. Maybe my husky size was imposing to him, causing him to use deadly force. Maybe I was just another trouble-making thug from Flint who threatened the livelihoods of so many hard-working, tax-paying citizens. Whatever the case, the “tragic” shooting had to take place. It was necessary.

It’s pretty unlikely that being on the Dean’s list at the time would’ve mattered much. Being a former national oratorical contestant, a junior deacon at my church, a self-taught drummer, or a very talented cartoonist would’ve been ignored by the media. Maybe an interview or two with family or friends would’ve taken place, but those interviews would be a moot point since my characterization as a crook would have already taken over the conversation. I’d be forever known as one of them: one of those low down black criminals from Flint who got what he “deserved.”

But fortunately, none of that happened to me. I’m alive and well, with virtually every record of that time period erased from the records.

Why am I telling you all this? For a few reasons, I suppose. I offer this as a testament to how far God has brought me. I offer this as a cautionary tale to others. But I think I’m telling you all this because, well, Mike Brown isn’t able to.

Rest in peace, man.