Former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin discusses ‘racist’ traffic stop he experienced and George Floyd

If there’s one scientist who can get people talking, it’s Bill Nye the Science Guy.

“We got a lot going on out there,” were the only words he said to former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, making him flashback to a time before space, where he was victimized by a white Lynchburg, Virginia, police officer.

In A Conversation: Leland Melvin and Bill Nye, which published in June, Leland said he’s grateful that night didn’t turn out the way the officer wanted.

“I was in a car with my girlfriend after graduation, and a police officer walks up on us,” he recalled of the 1982 incident. “[The officer] grabs her out of the car and puts her in his car, and he tries to convince her that I was raping her, because he wanted me to go to jail.”

And the crazy thing is, Melvin added, “you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation right now because I would’ve been in the prison system. And once you get in the system, it’s very hard to get out of that system.”

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Melvin brought up the personal experience again Monday as a panelist during a virtual celebration for Black lives in the space industry, where he also discussed the Black Lives Matter Movement, Third Ward’s George Floyd and the protests sparked by his death, according to CNN.

Melvin said Floyd’s Memorial Day death brought tears to his eyes when he thought about how that could’ve been him.

“I see this Black man getting his life snuffed out, saying he can’t breathe,” Melvin said, as reported by CNN. “And when I heard him calling for his mother, that’s when I started crying because I thought about my mother. I thought about if that was me, being the life snuffed out of me.”

The dreadful traffic stop all those years ago didn’t detour Melvin’s career, as he eventually ended up logging more than 565 hours in space, but he said the only way to prevent these things from happening [to other Black men] is to work together.

If you’re not helping, you’re hurting (the cause), and he stressed the importance of making sure you’re doing your part to not contribute to racism.


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