Charles Tillman

Charles Tillman was a sixth-grader when a police officer ordered him to get on his knees and put his arms behind his head.

For 30 minutes, Tillman -- now a veteran cornerback with the Carolina Panthers -- remained in the same position with six other youngsters as they were questioned by six white cops in a quiet neighborhood along California's Monterey Bay.

Middle School Rules Of Charles Tillman

The boys, all of whom were brown-skinned, according to a scene described in author Sean Jensen's recently released The Middle School Rules of Charles "Peanut" Tillman, were ordered to remain still.

Tillman asked one of the officers how long he, his brother and their five friends would have to remain on their knees with their hands held behind their heads.

"Shut up," one of officers replied, according to the book. "Or we'll call your mother."

Never before, Jensen writes, had Tillman wanted his mama so badly in his life.

Now 34, Tillman -- born on Chicago's South Side, where gun violence, and more recently the murders of two young boys, have grabbed headlines -- being racially profiled at a young age while living in a predominantly white neighborhood impacts his view of life back in his hometown.

Tillman spent his formative years moving from one Army post to another before settling in Copperas Cove, Texas, where he played high school football. He then went on to play collegiately at Louisiana-Lafayette. But the years immediately following his encounter with profiling provided perspective.

Charles Tillman

And yet, the memory of being detained by the police in the front yard of one of Tillman's childhood friends despite being innocent of any wrongdoing molded his initial impression of law enforcement officials.

"I'm guilty of putting all cops in the same bowl of dishonest people when I was in the sixth grade, the seventh grade," Tillman says in a phone interview. "I just assumed all cops were bad because these cops lied to us and they just assumed we had done something wrong.

"We were truthful, we were obedient -- we obeyed all their commands -- and they just completely lied to us. It was a one-sided story."

Tillman, whose father served in the Army and became a military police officer for a few years, was taught early on to be respectful of those in authority. His father, Donald, had also instilled in his children the hard and fast rule of "think before you act" -- both of which came into play in the 30 minutes when Tillman and his friends remained on their knees while knowing they hadn't done anything wrong.

Without being told what they were being accused of, Tillman said the incident became racially charged created an undeniable feeling of being treated unfairly.

"It was, 'Get down on your knees and put your hands up," says Tillman, a two-time Pro Bowler who was awarded the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for his charitable work off the field along with his game day performances. "Nobody ever questioned the other guy, what he did, if he threatened us. It was just, 'OK -- you guys are black -- you probably did it.'

Charles Tillman

"I was hurt by it."

Tillman says he maintained ill feelings toward the police for a year or two. While Tillman's parents had experienced racial profiling themselves, they had never, according to Jensen's book that is geared for young readers, discussed the matter with their sons, worrying they were too young to deal with such a complex issue.

Instead, they instructed Tillman and his brother not to do anything that would make matters worse, to keep their cool, to get the officers' badge number and to bring the matter up once they arrived home.

"That's a lot to process for a sixth-grader," Tillman says looking back at an incident that provided him with one of the biggest life lessons he has ever encountered. "Now that I'm old enough, I can articulate how I felt back then.

"In the sixth grade, I'm probably not old enough to tell you how and what I'm feeling or I'm not able to discuss how I felt at that time."

Charles Tillman

Jensen, a former NFL beat writer who authored his first Middle School Rules book with former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, says considering the audience the Tillman book is directed to, he struggled with how to address racial profiling.

But after interviewing many of the characters involved and considering how much being profiled at impacted Tillman going forward, Jensen knew he didn't have any other choice but to make it one of several important chapters included in the book.

Jensen says he wrestled with the idea of introducing such a hot-button topic in a book that also addresses Tillman's first brush with losing a loved one. Jensen realized it was essential to make this one of the pivotal lessons covered in the book.

"It's a real controversial topic," Jensen says. "Because this happened to Charles at the age were focused on, I felt that was a huge part of Charles story.

"The man who we see today who does all these amazing things, this incident is one of the things that defined him."

Tillman, who has aspirations of working in law enforcement after his NFL career, now uses the experience of being profiled and perspective gained over the years to help shape the ideals of youngsters as it relates to their dealings with the police.

Charles Tillman

But considering what is happening back in the part of Chicago where he was born and where his uncle was murdered in a drive-by shooting when Tillman was in the seventh grade, it's important -- Tillman says -- for youngsters to have a correct view of officers working in neighborhoods where gun violence is prevalent.

Tillman, who spent 12 seasons with the Bears before joining the Panthers before this season, insists that even though his football home is in Charlotte, the news of violence back in his beloved Chicago still hits home.

And hard.

"It really breaks my heart to see senseless violence," Tillman says. "We're killing each other."

Charles Tillman

Tillman keeps tabs on his hometown and is constantly reminded of the violence taking place in the part of Chicago where his uncle was gunned down. Recently 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee was killed after being lured into in alley and shot reportedly over his father's alleged gang ties.

At the boy's funeral, prominent Chicago activist Michael Pflegar, the pastor at St. Sabina Catholic Church, called the execution of the fourth grader, "evil right in our face."

The evil angers Tillman.

He sees the protests that result when blacks are killed by white police officers and hears the chants that black lives matter. But when other acts of violence such as Tyshawn's murder don't draw the same level of outrage, Tillman believes something needs to happen.

"It's black-on-black crime," Tillman says. "It's kind of like silent and I don't like that. We all matter, man. Where's the protests over this little 9-year-old?

Charles Tillman Drew Brees

"It really is sad and I really hate that Chicago -- the city that I love, the city that I'm from -- I hate seeing that were on the news (for gun violence) and its like, 'We're better than that."

Yet, it's in the face of the headline-grabbing violence that is ending young lives that Tillman retreats back to the lessons learned after overcoming a bitterness to law enforcement officers.

In addition to thinking before they act, Tillman, a father of four, believes young people can help foster proper relationships with cops manning neighborhoods in places like Chicago to help establish trust.

Tillman now considers both parts of the equation in shaping his thinking. He not only considers what young people are going through in places where violent crime persists, but he also considers the cops -- the same authority figures he once harbored ill feelings toward -- in helping shape possible solutions.

He factors in what they see when they arrive on scene and what conclusions can be drawn from their observations. It's then, when both sides are put into perspective Tillman says, when teachable moments can be attained.

"You can't just look at one side," Tillman says. "There's three sides to every story -- there's yours, mine and the truth. So what I would tell kids is, don't put yourself in a bad situation to make a police officer think you did something wrong.

"You have to have faith and you have to trust the system."

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