The news is out: [Leland Melvin launched to orbit twice aboard NASA space shuttles. Long before his decorated astronaut career, though, Melvin was a materials science engineer and even got drafted by the NFL to play for the Detroit Lions.
But in a conversation with famed science communicator Bill Nye, who’s the president of the nonprofit Planetary Society, Melvin revealed a moment where his future hung in the balance — between a meteoric career and the prison system — because of the color of his skin.
In 1979, Melvin had just graduated from Heritage High School in Lynchburg, Virginia, and was enjoying his time off before heading to the University of Richmond, where he’d go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
“I was in a car with my girlfriend after graduation, and a police officer rolls up on us,” Melvin told Nye, each of whom are friends, in a YouTube video published by the Planetary Society. “We were just making out, talking, whatever.”
When the state trooper approached the car, Melvin said the officer pulled his girlfriend out and put her into his cruiser. While in his custody, the officer tried “to convince her that I was raping her, because he wanted me to go to jail,” Melvin said.
“He said, ‘If you don’t say that he’s raping you, I’m gonna take you to jail, your parents are going to have to come get you, and then you’re going to have a record,'” he added, paraphrasing the officer’s words to his girlfriend at the time. “She said, ‘No, I love him, he’s my boyfriend, he’s going to college on a football scholarship, he’s this and that,”” and that she was headed to college, too.
Eventually, Melvin said the officer gave up and let them go.]
A good cop is one who hasn’t been caught yet.