Until Tuesday, Jathan Walthour practiced his Air Force ROTC drills with a mop, marching around his Raleigh home with a kitchen cleaning tool.
But as the drills grew more complicated, the sophomore at Sanderson High School got his first dummy rifle from Dick’s Sporting Goods — a fake wooden gun for more realistic practice.
He took his rifle to the cul-de-sac Tuesday night, spinning and switching it between his shoulders, until his practice stopped short. Someone called police on Walthour, who is 16 and Black. A patrol car rolled up to investigate.
Walthour knew what to do. He belongs to Police Explorers, a community program for kids interested in criminal justice. So he placed the rifle on the ground and stepped away from it before officers said a word.
‘This is every day for us’
Still, his family struggles with what might have happened, and greater still, how anyone could see a teen in an ROTC T-shirt carrying a wooden gun that resembles a musket as a threat.
His mother, Jasmin Krest, offered this sobering response: “This is every day for us.”
Jathan’s father, Shawn Krest, a Raleigh sportswriter, described Jathan as “a little shaken” and tweeted about the incident Tuesday, gathering hundreds of likes and starting a lengthy thread.
“He came in and said, ‘I guess the neighbors called the police on me,’ “ his father said Wednesday. “At first, we thought he was joking. The cops had already left. That was one of the scariest things.”
Krest has lived on the North Raleigh street for 10 years, but he married his wife, Jasmin, two years and a half years ago, and she brought three children to the marriage.
Jasmin Krest said neighbors on their previous street in Fuquay-Varina once called police on her two youngest children because they were playing in the rain.
And animal control officers have been called to their Raleigh street before, Shawn Krest said, because around two and half years ago their cat got out and was howling to get back in. Neighbors thought the pet had been mistreated.
The conversation parents must have
Growing up, Jathan had serious talks about what can happen to young Black men. They have seen how kids of different races are disciplined differently, their mother said.
“I’ve had to have this conversation with all three of my kids,” Jasmin Krest said. “Since they were little. They all know the drill. You probably will get pulled over, and not for anything you were doing but for the color of your skin.”
The incident is even more potent against the backdrop of the Derek Chauvin trial in Minnesota, or Daunte Wright’s shooting death in a Minneapolis suburb when an officer said she mistakenly drew her gun rather than a Taser.
Krest said he went to the police station Wednesday and officers remembered the call, saying that many of them were headed that way before it was dismissed as a false alarm.
“Their hands are kind of tied,” he said. “If they get a call, they have to respond.”
He hasn’t talked to any of his neighbors, but the family planned to post fliers around the street Wednesday explaining Jathan’s ROTC drills and replica weapon.
But Krest had further plans, as he explained in his tweet:
“I’ll be buying a lawn chair & patio table tomorrow morning & sit out in our driveway whenever he wants to practice,” he said, “to make sure our neighbors don’t try to get him killed.”