Despite all of his experiences with suspicious vehicles over the years, Officer Zimmerman had assumed that this would be a routine traffic stop. But as he was looking over the driver’s documentation, his eyes traveled to the backseat.
He had been in the force for a long time. But that day, he saw something that he knew he had to act on.
Officer Zimmerman was a man who truly believed in the power of his badge. Every day, he strove to do some good in the world. He was dedicated to serving and protecting the people of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Crime never sleeps, so while most people are relaxing on the weekend, Officer Zimmerman is out patrolling. But one chilly Saturday in October was about to change everything.
On that fateful Saturday, Officer Zimmerman was monitoring traffic — scanning license plates for any vehicles that had been reported stolen or involved in a crime. It was his duty to act when the machine picked up anything suspicious.
Often, the alarm was for something less serious, like an unpaid speeding ticket. But, occasionally, the alarm was the first sign of a much larger problem…
Officer Zimmerman couldn’t afford to let his guard down and let anything slip through on his watch. He also had to be prepared for anything.
He knew that even innocent people might do something irrational when dealing with an officer of the law. He had been trained to always proceed with extreme caution. Then, suddenly, the machine beeped furiously.
The machine had picked up that one particular car’s registration was invalid. A woman named Ebony Rhodes was at the wheel. She was immersed in thought, so she hadn’t noticed Officer Zimmerman’s patrol car pulling up behind her.
Then the siren lights started flashing, and she knew she was doomed. Pushing the terror down, she tried to crack her most innocent smile and prepared to talk.
Officer Zimmerman flagged the car down, and it pulled over immediately. He wondered if this meant that his job was going to be easy.
He got out of his patrol car and got ready to approach, but he was aware that he had no idea what was waiting for him in that unregistered car. There was still every chance that he would have to chase the driver down the street.
Ebony gripped the steering wheel tightly as she felt her hands get clammy and sweat drip down her face.
She looked in the rearview mirror and watched as the police officer approached her vehicle. She didn’t want to panic, but she knew she was in big trouble. She didn’t think she’d be able to talk her way out of this.
Ebony knew that the police officer would not look kindly on her offenses — she was driving an unregistered car, her license had been suspended, and she had no insurance.
Even so, that wasn’t what worried her the most. Her terrible secret was in danger of being exposed. She couldn’t help but start crying at the thought.
Ebony’s face was drenched in tears by the time Officer Zimmerman reached her window. The officer was taken aback when he saw it.
“He came to the car and asked why I was crying and I was like, ‘…because I know my license isn’t good,'” recalls Ebony. Officer Zimmerman listened intently until a strange noise stopped him in his tracks. There was an odd sound coming from the back of the car. When he peeked into the back seat, he was shocked.
The past few months had already been quite hard on Ebony. After losing her mother, she packed up her entire family and moved them to Milwaukee.
However, soon Ebony was faced with an unforgiving reality. She tried to keep it a secret for the sake of her children. But she couldn’t keep it hidden forever.
There, in the backseat of Ebony’s unregistered car, were a lot of kids jumping around. Ebony quickly explained. Being a single mother of four meant that Ebony had to hustle to provide for her family — all her children in the car were hers.
But it wasn’t the children that shocked Zimmerman – it was the fact that they had no safety seats. But, unfortunately, after the officer reviewed her documents, he told Ebony she had no choice but to arrest her and impound her car. Ebony’s heart sank. She knew that when they searched the car, the jig would be up.
Officer Zimmerman took her and the four children to the police station, where Ebony was able to call a co-worker to pick up her kids and notify her sister, who lived in Chicago.
She was the only one who could take care of them while Ebony was in jail. But that meant taking them back to Chicago, and Ebony couldn’t bear the thought of them being so far away. That said, she had other, more pressing problems. Once the police searched her car, she’d have to come clean.
The Milwaukee Police Department’s Deputy Chief Jeff Glazier was sitting in his office when Officer Zimmerman knocked on his door. He waved him in, and Officer Zimmerman told him there was a situation.
Officer Zimmerman was conducting a routine search of Ebony’s impounded car. But what they found was more than they bargained for. Chief Glazier went to the impound lot to see for himself. “We have to do something about this,” he said once he realized what was going on.
Inside Ebony’s 1997 Buick Regal officers found numerous bags, backpacks, and other items. At first glance, it looked like a hoarder’s car. But then the truth dawned on them. Ebony and the children had been sleeping in this car.
Alarmed, Officer Zimmerman went to Ebony’s cell to talk to her. And that’s when she told him the whole story.
Since moving to Milwaukee, Ebony had been working shifts at a Walmart store. Her pay wasn’t much, and it was compounded by the fact that she and two of her kids had chronic health issues. She found herself unable to make a deposit on an apartment, and so she and her family became homeless.
For the last six months, the whole family had been living in that car. And the details of that life broke Officer Zimmerman’s heart. No wonder she hadn’t been able to afford safety seats for her kids.
Finding a safe place to park her car at night was not easy, and sometimes it meant driving around from place to place. “A lot of times I didn’t sleep because the kids were asleep,” recalls Ebony.
“I was watching to make sure nothing happened — no one tried to rob us… so we’d just stay right there in the car.”She was ashamed of her situation, and so she tried to keep it a secret. For a while, she succeeded.
“When I got off work we would just sleep right there in the parking lot in my car,” Ebony said. “A lot of people didn’t know that because I was still going to work.” Still, this was no way to raise a family, and she knew it.
“I apologized to my kids and let them know I’m sorry,” she confessed. Then, when she was pulled over and arrested, she thought they’d just lost their home. But she was wrong.
Officer Zimmerman called the director of a family homeless shelter, whom he had met recently. “I called her up and said, ‘Listen I’ve got a family of five including three boys and a girl, and he’s 17,’” he recalls.
“And she goes, ‘Yeah, I have some room.’ And if you know anything about shelters in the middle of the winter, there’s nothing available and she had something available. I couldn’t believe it.” And neither could Ebony.
Officer Zimmerman told Ebony the good news. “When he called me that day I just started crying because I’d been trying to get into different shelters for a long time,” she said. “No one would ever accept us.” But Zimmerman wanted to do more than that.
He did a fundraising drive among the Police Department staff so Ebony’s family could get an apartment. It helped, but after a while, they realized it was not enough to keep them on solid ground. So they went public.
The Milwaukee PD set up a GoFundMe page to help Ebony and her family. “My goal is to pay her rent, food, medicine, and transportation for a year so she can continue to work and save money without the stress of wondering if her family will be homeless again,” wrote Officer Zimmerman.
The initial goal was $15,000, which they met in a matter of days. So they decided to extend it to $75,000 to help cover the family’s medical expenses. So far, they have raised $64,370. But that wasn’t all…
On the drive to Ebony’s house from Walmart, Kevin was excited to see her reaction. He had asked all the right questions and knew where the shelter she was living was.
Now, it was time for him to do what he had set out to do. Officer Kevin walked up to her door and knocked, excitedly waiting for her to open.
Ebony hesitantly opened the door. She was surprised to see Kevin there, but she was also a little apprehensive. For a moment, she was busy thinking of all the reasons for the police officer to be visiting.
And she hadn’t noticed what he was holding in his hands. Was he here with bad news? She wondered, anxiously.
Ebony never expected to see the police officer who had pulled her over to show up on her front doorstep. So, what was going on? Was he going to arrest her? Or fine her?
Actually, it was the complete opposite. In Kevin’s hands, he was holding two brand-new car seats for her children.
After Kevin was finished his shift, he went to Walmart and purchased two car seats for Ebony’s children.
When he arrived at Ebony’s house, he handed her over the two car seats. Ebony was overwhelmed with emotion. Then, Kevin shared why he decided to get her kids’ car seats: it was for the safety of her children. Now Ebony looks back on that traffic stop with different eyes.
“Milwaukee Police Department is my backbone,” says Ebony. “They helped me come a long way. The whole PD is my family because I can call on them for everything.” And she feels nothing but gratitude for the fateful traffic stop that set everything in motion.
“Had I not got pulled over that day, I’d probably still be in my car, just taking a risk every day. Losing that car and getting pulled over that day changed my life.”