On Wednesday afternoon, NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo was not charged with a crime after he killed Eric Garner in July of this year.
This comes on the heels of an unidentified Phoenix police officer killing Rumain Brisbon in front of his girlfriend and 15 month old child. Brisbon only had a bottle of pills on his person and was bringing food to his family when he was killed.
This comes on the heels of officer Timothy Loehmann killing Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy with a toy gun. This comes on the heels of NYPD officer killing Akai Gurley in a stairwell and texting his union representative instead of getting Gurley medical help.
This comes on the heels of police officers killing Tanesha Anderson in November.
This comes on the heels of prosecutors in Utah declining to press charges against Matthew Schauerhaumer and Nicholas Judson, two police officers that killed the toy sword wielding Darrien Hunt in September.
This comes on the heels of Darren Wilson not being charged with a crime after he killed Michael Brown in August.
This comes on the heels of a judge dropping charges against Joseph Weekley, a Detroit police officer that killed Aiyana Jones as she slept in 2010.
This comes a year after a Charlotte police officer named Randall Kerrick killed Jonathan Ferrell after Ferrell was seeking help following a car crash.
What unites all of these people? All Black. All unarmed. All killed by the police.
People around the world have begun to push back at the police violence inflicted on Black bodies. In New York City, Miami, Ferguson, Paris, and other places have been protesting police actions. Protesters have stared down assault rifles, snipers, attack dogs, tear gas (which is banned in war by the way), the Ku Klux Klan, private militias, and attacks from their fellow citizens have continued to speak out and challenge these systems. They have taken this issue to Monday Night Football, the 14th Street bridge in Washington DC, the Barclays Center and practically every other hub in the USA over the past week. When the people try to avoid the issue, bring the issue to the people.
In the sports world, statements on social issues can be somewhat hard to come by. Players and other personnel have a lot at stake and can sometimes err on the side of caution when addressing the major issues of the day. We know the big historical ones. Muhammad Ali refusing to join the Vietnam War in 1967. Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympics. Mahmoud Abdul Rauf protesting US policy by refusing to stand for the national anthem in 1996. We hadn't that many statements from athletes on social issues this year, but that has changed in recent weeks.
On November 29, Knox College basketball player Ariyana Smith left her position from line and fell to the ground next to the American flag for 4.5 minutes during the playing of the national anthem. After Michael Brown was killed, his body laid in the middle of the street for 4.5 hours. She was suspended by her team for this, but Knox rescinded it a few days later. Although Smith's protest didn't receive much attention, her bravery should be celebrated. And it looks as if athletes in the pros have followed her lead.
The day after Ariyana, five St. Louis Rams entered their game with their hands up in solidarity with protesters in Ferguson. Jamilah Lemieux has more on this at EBONY. In the NBA, Derrick Rose brought the issue to the forefront by wearing an "I Can't Breathe" shirt before his game against Golden State. As a parent and popular personality in American culture, Rose wanted to set an example for his and other children across the US.
So far at least, the criticism Rose has received has been a bit off. Dan Bernstein agreed with what Rose did, but didn't think he was capable of expressing why he wore the shirt. It's worth remembering that Rose has been active in his community surrounding important issues. Over at the Daily Herald, Mike McGraw wrote:
If Rose wore a shirt during warmups that read "Support the police," what would the reaction have been? It's a perfectly reasonable sentiment. The police play a vital role in every community and perform tens of thousands of positive acts for every awful incident such as the death of Eric Garner in a chokehold or the shooting of Akai Gurley in the dark stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project.
This misses the point for a couple of reasons. The first? Scroll back to the beginning of this article. Secondly, the majority is OK with what the police are doing so Rose wouldn't have been saying anything if he did wear a shirt that said "Support the Police."
Also, deploying "Not all cops" is a gross derailment of the issues at hand. Speaking up for your rights and advocating for the police to be better is a discussion that we must have. Policing has always been problematic in certain communities, but they have become even more pronounced in recent months. Deploying "Not all police" tells me that you aren't really trying to have a discussion and are OK with the ways things are. Obviously not all police are bad, but there are enough of them that they can't be ignored. When we can have raw, honest discussions about our police, what they really do, and how we can better train them to work in communities, everyone will be better off. Even before I finished writing this article, another unarmed Black person was shot by police.
Even with that criticism, Rose has inspired his peers to follow his lead. On Monday night, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Jarrett Jack, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett and Alan Anderson all wore "I Can't Breathe" shirts in solidarity with protesters across New York and the entire world.
It's always important to speak up, but when you do it with the entire world watching and British royalty present, it becomes even more inspiring. I think we sometimes lose the bigger point when we ask "Why don't athletes walk out if they're really about this?" Anytime a person breaks from their norms and speaks out on injustice, they should be celebrated. Athletes probably won't be on the frontlines, but their voices and contributions can still be influential. For the person unaware of a particular issue, seeing someone like Rose or LeBron shine a light on it can do wonders. It can lead them into learning about what's going on, and from there, they can decide what should or shouldn't be done. Professional sports are an inherently political affair, and we'd be better off acknowledging that. Plus, athletes can apply pressure in other ways.
Protest comes in all forms. At the Guardian, Syreeta McFadden explains why protests are so important:
Because it is our only recourse. We do not explode in violence, but we do not accept these terms that anticipate and perpetuate failure. We channel a sustained, clear-eyed rage, and we insist that our policies and our enactment of those policies ensure equal protection for the most vulnerable among us and accountability for officers in uniform when they kill unarmed youth with impunity.
We protest so that some day, some years from now, justice is not a surprise, nor a dream, nor deferred. So that justice just is.
From Ariyana Smith:
I knew it was gonna shock people. I knew they were gonna be upset, but I couldn’t let that stop me. I could not go to the city of St. Louis and not acknowledge the sacrifice the protesters were making with their bodies. People are being gassed. To me, that demonstration was absolutely respectful.
We've reached a point where we can't afford to be silent on these issues anymore. Watching people get killed by police and not even having a trial ought to scare the hell out of you. A short term inconvenience is nothing compared to losing a member of the community after they were killed. Seeing today's athletes using their platforms to speak on the issues affecting all of is heartening and the rest of us should follow suit.
The game's changed.
- 'I Can't Breathe' T-Shirts in the N.B.A.: How Jay-Z and Others Made Them Happen - Scott Cacciola - New York Times
- LeBron James Embraces His Political Platform -- And That's A Good Thing - Jane McManus - ESPN W
- Kobe Bryant and Los Angeles Lakers wear 'I Can't Breathe' shirts in warmup - ESPN