This article was originally published by The Pittsburg Post Gazette, and is reprinted here.
On Monday, Ibn Ali Miller of Atlantic City was on an errand for his mother when he saw two teenagers brawling in the middle of the street. By Wednesday, the 26-year-old married father of five was being feted nationwide for having the courage and moral authority to step forward and stop a fight before it escalated.
The video of the altercation and Mr. Miller’s intervention went viral within hours of being uploaded. Shot by one of the many bystanders egging the fighters on, the video shows two black boys in their mid-teens exchanging blows before separating and getting ready to charge each other again.
A half head shorter than both teens, Mr. Miller strolls resolutely toward the fighters. Unlike the typical adult witnessing such a scene, he is not afraid. Without lifting a finger or physically touching either young man, Mr. Miller commands their attention by pointing to the crowd of teens recording the fight.
“Everybody on their phones, y’all the real cowards,” he says bringing the fight to a sudden stop. The recording continues.
You can tell by the posture of the young fighters in the video that they are relieved to put their guard down. Seconds earlier, the crowd had admonished them to “square up” and kick up the violence quotient. Mr. Miller picked up on their instigating and dealt with it first.
He points to a girl laughing and several boys who are supposed to be allies of one the fighters exploiting them both for entertainment. “It ain’t cool, man,” Mr. Miller says before shifting responsibility back to the fighters themselves. “Y’all in the middle of the street.”
Calmly and skillfully, Mr. Miller unmasks the crowd’s double-dealing for what it is. He correctly intuits that one of the fighters is angry while the other is just defending himself. Every time someone laughs at his attempt at peacemaking, Mr. Miller points it out and reminds the combatants that they aren’t surrounded by people who care about either of them.
He asks who “advised” them to fight and suggests that their conflict is “a trick of the devil.” After successfully de-escalating the main fight, Mr. Miller turns to the crowd of teenagers and tells them not to embarrass their parents.
“If y’all live around here, y’all live somewhere good,” Mr. Miller says. “Y’all got parents, yo.’ Don’t make your parents look like this. Word up!”
Looking around the crowd, Mr. Miller spots a familiar face. “Yo,’I know where you’re from — humble beginnings. Your mom and dad worked hard to get where they’re at.”
Spotting another teenager he vaguely knows from the neighborhood, Mr. Miller does not equivocate. “Little bro,” he says, “Your dad’s doing life [in prison]. You think it’s a game out here? It’s real out here,” he says fiercely.
He then encourages the crowd to realize that at 15, 16 and 17 they are almost grown men (and women). He asks them to act like it. Most hang their heads deferentially, as if shamed into tacit agreement. Some continue to snicker.
Mr. Miller then spends the last minute of the four-minute video encouraging the two young fighters to shake hands. He vows that he will not leave until they do.
Mr. Miller tells them to ignore the laughter. After some cajoling, the young men who had had their consciousness raised instead of their faces bloodied, shake hands reluctantly, but sincerely.
It was a magnificent display of peacemaking on Mr. Miller’s part. The entire country took notice. The video was rewarded with millions of views throughout social media. Mr. Miller was lionized as a hero during a recognition ceremony sponsored by the City Council of Atlantic City.
The two boys whose fighting prompted Mr. Miller’s intervention were present during the city council ceremony. Mr. Miller told everyone who would listen that the boys were the “true heroes” because they chose to listen instead of fight. They chose to ignore their peers and think about their futures.
As someone who is old enough to remember when admonishing kids who weren’t related to you to “do the right thing” wasn’t unusual, what Mr. Miller did was rare — and brave.
Admittedly, had I stumbled on the scene, I might’ve been too stunned to act because I would’ve been amazed that the boys were only using their fists to fight each other instead of resorting to knives, guns or drive-by shootings favored by legions of scared young men today.
Mr. Miller seemed to step out of the not-too-distant past many of us remember fondly. He cared enough about two black boys fighting in the street to intervene when many would have averted their gaze for safety’s sake. In doing so, he reminded us that truly loving one’s neighbor involves an element of risk.
Tony Norman: [email protected] or 412-263-1631; Twitter @TonyNormanPG.