See, kids? Miami Dolphins’ Kenny Stills’ encounter with police gets tense (but has happy ending)

Leaders from the Dolphins, law enforcement and politics join for a conference between 600 high school students and police at Hard Rock Stadium. (Hal Habib / The Palm Beach Post)

MIAMI GARDENS — Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills was going to pick up a pizza and go home. It was to be a simple Sunday night errand, only it quickly escalated into something not so simple.

As he pulled out of the parking lot, he noticed police eyeing him. He nodded at the officers and started driving away, but when he saw the cruiser in his rearview mirror, he started to get nervous.

“I knew I didn’t do anything wrong, and so I pulled over into the parking lot of where I was and just parked, put my window down,” Stills said.

As the cruiser parked behind him, a now-familiar scene broke out.

“Immediately, what I do, I put my hands out the window and I’m like, ‘All right, I don’t want anything to go down,’ because I’m nervous at this point,” Stills said.

Then, things took a turn — for the better.

“They get out of the car and they’re like, ‘Hey, we ran your plates. We saw it was you. We wanted to come and say hi,’ ” Stills said.

The story came to mind Tuesday morning as Stills was among the featured speakers as the Dolphins and the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project held a “Police and Youth Conference” at Hard Rock Stadium, bringing together 600 high school students from Dade and Broward with law enforcement from those two counties, plus the FBI and DEA, to promote interaction between kids and police.

Stills’ appearance was noteworthy because he has spent the past two seasons kneeling during the national anthem to protest social injustice. Staring at a conference filled with badges and uniforms, Stills didn’t shy away from explaining why he kneels.

“I was tired of seeing the things that were happening,” he said. “People were getting killed and there was no accountability for it.”

When the moderator asked Tom Garfinkel, the Dolphins’ president and CEO, why the organization allowed players to kneel, Garfinkel said, “I don’t think it’s a question of allow or not allow. In this country you have a right to do that.”

Garfinkel explained how he spent 45 minutes visiting with social activist Jim Brown at the Super Bowl. Brown told him, “It’s about humanity. It’s fundamentally not about race, really.”

Garfinkel also watched a documentary set in 1968. “The country was pretty messed up,” he said. “And in some ways, it’s pretty messed up right now. We need to create dialogue. We need to have civil discourse. We need to have mutual respect.”

An eye-opening moment came when the moderator asked the students how many had a negative impression of law enforcement. A few dozen raised their hands. He then asked how many had a positive impression. About the same number of hands went up.

Perhaps last week’s attack that killed 17 students and faculty at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will change attitudes toward law enforcement, said Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), founder of 5000 Role Models.

“To see police officers running to the scene, the first responders coming from Dade, coming from Palm Beach, all over Broward, to save these kids, it’s phenomenal,” Wilson said. “It’s an eye-opener to say to the community and to the nation, who else do we have? Who are our protectors except law enforcement, the FBI, the DEA, all of our municipal police agencies? We depend on them, and so children begin to appreciate that.”

Dolphins guard Jermon Bushrod was among those stressing to kids ways to defuse situations when encountering police.

“I had a couple of situations where I had to be more respectful than at times you really want to be, because you feel like you are profiled or embarrassed,” Bushrod said. “But sometimes those lessons kind of come back in your head when you get caught in a situation where, ‘OK, maybe I should act this way so that things go smoothly.’ ”

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