Robbie Tolan believes what happened to him in the early morning hours of December 31, 2008, was motivated by the Bellaire, Texas, police department’s penchant for racial profiling. Tolan was stopped at his front door, accused of stealing his own car, and subsequently shot by an officer in front of his parents. The Houston chapter of the NAACP is supporting Tolan in his claims.
A traffic contact report recently issued by the Bellaire Police Department indicates that White drivers are actually stopped more frequently by the police than Black or Latino drivers, but once the numbers for Blacks and Latinos are combined, they tell a very different story. In fact, while 80 percent of Bellaire is White, 56 percent of those stopped during a traffic check are minorities.
Tolan has found himself in the middle of it all, fighting not only for himself, but for what he sees a big problem – racial profiling. The city of Bellaire has already issued a letter, warning his attorneys to stop talking to the media. Repeated calls to the police department were not returned.
In Part 2 of our interview with Tolan, he tells us about how this ordeal has affected his family, about his future baseball careeer, and the price he’s willing to pay for justice.
ESSENCE.COM: How have your parents been dealing with this situation?
ROBBIE TOLAN: Almost two weeks after I was shot, all of the stress led to my dad needing double bypass heart surgery. He’s out of the hospital now. My mom is a very strong woman. Of course, sometimes she gets upset and starts crying but she’s holding up well considering everything that happened.
ESSENCE.COM: You were playing baseball in the minor leagues trying to get to the Majors. Will you ever be able to play baseball again?
TOLAN: I don’t know. I can’t do anything. I can’t lift anything. I can barely stand up straight and I have two broken ribs which limits my breathing. But knowing that I may not be able to play baseball again affects me a little more than knowing that I have a bullet inside me. Baseball has been in my blood since I was a baby. I can remember swinging a bat before I could dress myself. Everyone knows I live, eat, breath, and sleep baseball and that’s all I ever talked about wanting to do. Now that may all be taken from me.
ESSENCE.COM: There were two other Black men who were shot within 24 hours after you but in different parts of the country. Oscar Grant was unarmed and shot in Oakland and Adolph Grimes was shot by police officers in New Orleans. How do you feel knowing that these brothers died from their injuries but you lived?
TOLAN: I’m blessed to have made it through but I think it’s a terrible situation. It’s sad that you put a badge on these guys, give them a gun and they pretty much have the authority to do whatever they want. The guy in Oakland was handcuffed and on the ground, so what threat was he posing? This is why I’m so adamant about taking [my story] nationwide because I have to do it for the people who weren’t as fortunate as me. I have to do this for those families and those guys who got shot and didn’t receive any justice.
Photo: Robbile Tolan with his parents
ESSENCE.COM: What do you hope happens to these officers?
TOLAN: I want them to both go to prison. I understand it’s a tough job and I certainly wouldn’t want to do it. I know there are some really great cops out there and some really bad ones, but they need to be held accountable for the things they do and decisions they make. You can’t just be so quick to pull that gun out to resolve differences. I want the officer who shot me to go to prison for attempted murder. I would like the mayor, the police chief and anybody else who has been trying to cover this up to resign.
ESSENCE.COM: Why do you really think they deserve to go to jail?
TOLAN: They didn’t follow any protocol. Their lights weren’t even turned on. If I didn’t look behind me initially to see there was a police car, for all I know I was getting robbed. He had a gun and a flashlight in my face, so was I supposed to know? They could have tazed me instead of shooting me. I wasn’t a threat. He just got trigger happy and wanted to use his gun and now he needs to pay the consequences.
ESSENCE.COM: How far are you willing to take this?
TOLAN: As far as possible. I have to do this for the guy in Oakland and the guy in New Orleans. I was a little scared at first but I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. I’ve seen how all of this has affected my parents and the rest of my family. If I can minister to people or inspire them to try to take a stand against police brutality and be more vocal, then that’s what I will do.