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Come Home Safe: A Novel

by Brian Buckmire


In his first published novel, New York public defender and Law&Crime host Brian Buckmire artfully transforms his professional understanding of the criminal justice system into the written experiences of two young, Black students living in Brooklyn — 14-year old soccer star, Reed, and his 12-year old debate champion sister, Olive — as they are targeted by it for the first time.

Buckmire’s skill as a writer is apparent in the way he is able to boil down complex pieces of legal information into the easily comprehensible language of a father speaking to his children. While Reed is technically the one narrating, the real voice driving the story is that of Reed’s father, who is consistently present in the text as the two siblings rely on memories of what he has told them to do should they find themselves caught in a police encounter. Equal parts emotive and instructional, readers come away from the novel equipped with a toolkit of legal knowledge about their own rights, as they have also been given access to Reed’s father’s words through Reed’s internal dialogue.

The novel unfolds in two parts — or two journeys home, rather.

In the first, Reed picks up his younger sister from middle school and hops on the subway, where he is accused by police of smoking weed and jumping the turnstile, despite not looking anything like the boys they are actually in pursuit of. Though he is ultimately released from their custody, the aggressive line of questioning and unnecessary force used by the officers leave him with a series of “what ifs” running through his mind.

What if a compassionate Sergeant hadn’t intervened? What if he hadn’t made it back home to the safety of his parents?

Several months later, still struggling to shake off the “what ifs” and regain the confidence he possessed prior to the encounter, he is forced to confront the reality of racial profiling for a second time, only now with his younger sister as the target. When Olive is accused by a White woman of stealing her phone at a cafe, the two siblings are placed once again in a situation where their voices and rights are outright ignored by figures of authority, despite both times advocating for themselves in the polite, firm tones their parents have coached them to use.

“Reed wants to be anywhere but here. Is this my fault? Reed has always been taught to be proud of himself, to be kind, to do good. Now, looking at the crowd, he can’t help but wonder, Did I do something wrong? But what could I have possibly done wrong? Is something wrong with me? Am I the reason these people are angry? Am I going home today?”

— Brian Buckmire, author of Come Home Safe

While Reed exits these encounters feeling dejected — struck by the harsh fact that all the training and preparation was still not enough to completely shield them from violently biased assumptions — Olive’s reaction is very different. She admits to also feeling haunted by the “what ifs,” yet she eventually recognizes that her fear has become the source of her determination to fight for change. The biggest “what if” for Olive is: “what if” what happened to them is allowed to happen to someone else?

Neither sibling’s reaction is more correct than the other’s, and each is allowed (by their equally frustrated parents, as well as by Buckmire as the writer) to process their traumatic experiences on their own terms.

The world is full of reasons to feel unsafe, particularly for teens such as Olive and Reed who are subject to police targeting. Still, as Buckmire illustrates, a sense of safety can be located in the support of loved ones and the powerful tool that is knowledge of one’s rights.

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