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A look at Kyrie Irving’s #sayhername special on Breonna Taylor ... and what it teaches us

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Last week, Kyrie Irving working with Common and Jemele Hill produced a PlayersTV special on the killing of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police ... and what subsequent protests can teach us all. Our Brian Fleurantin reviews the special.

March For Breonna Taylor Held In Minneapolis Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

“What does a world look like where Black women matter?”

On March 13th, Breonna Taylor was asleep in her Louisville home with her boyfriend. Around 12:30 AM that night, police officers barged into her home utilizing a no-knock warrant and killed Ms. Taylor after shooting her eight times. Taylor’s boyfriend was initially charged with a crime after shooting at who he thought were intruders in the officers, but charges were later dropped for the time being. Since the killing, serious questions have emerged about the officers’ conduct that night, why they were there to begin with, their reporting of the killing in official documentation, and as to whether the officers’ presence was part of a larger plot to gentrify the neighborhood.

Since Taylor’s killing, the response from the community has been fierce and consistent. Protesters from Louisville and around the world have come out almost every day demanding Taylor’s killers be prosecuted and face the consequences of their actions that night. Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, everyone has risked their own health to stand in, be present, and fight for what’s right.

The sports and entertainment worlds have joined with protesters and advocates in demanding justice. WNBA players will be wearing jerseys with Taylor’s name on it this season in addition to their continued work in the arena of social justice. Players in the NBA have joined in protests against police brutality while making sure to uplift Taylor’s name in various platforms and also plan to wear special jerseys with messages such as “Say Her Name” on them. Entertainers such as Beyonce have joined the cause by calling for justice for Taylor. As of this writing, officials in Kentucky have not charged the officers for killing Taylor and don’t appear to be making a decision any time soon.

US-POLITICS-RACE-UNREST Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

As the NBA has drawn closer to returning to play following their COVID-19 shutdown, Kyrie Irving has been a voice among players urging them to focus on issues beyond the game. He, Avery Bradley of the Los Angeles Lakers, and a few other players were opposed to the league returning as they felt the games would distract from the vital work being done in confronting police brutality, white supremacy, systemic racism, etc. There are legitimate questions as to how the league and its players can go about being effective allies as they look to use their platforms to assist in the fight for racial justice and equality in the United States.

With that said, Irving used his platform to help coordinate and air a special on the killing of Breonna Taylor and participated in a panel discussion around activism, being an ally to marginalized communities, etc. The special was in two parts as Massachusetts Congressman Ayanna Pressley, activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham, Rutgers University professor Dr. Brittney Cooper, Black Lives Matter (the organization) cofounder Alicia Garza held forum in the first half while Irving, artist and entertainer Common, and The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill were in the special’s second half.

The first panel discussion begins with this famous Angela Davis quote: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I can no longer accept.” If you’ve passed by Barclays Center recently, then you’d have seen the quote featured prominently there as well. The panelists highlighted the work of Louisville activist groups to make sure Taylor’s story made it into the national consciousness even as it didn’t receive much coverage at first.

One important point made in the first panel was that defining a person’s value by their role was, while well meaning, limiting to a certain degree. Even if Taylor wasn’t an essential worker, her life mattered and she deserved the safety and comfort of her own life and the ability to live. Justice for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Layleen Polanco, Rayshard Brooks, Tony McDade, and everyone else who’s suffered from state violence isn’t their killers being incarcerated. It’s that they’re alive, able to live their lives to the fullest, and no one else being killed by the state.

Generally speaking, there is something of “discussion fatigue,” for lack of a better term. It feels like we’ve been talking about the same issues over and over without any tangible solutions being offered or changes made. This moment feels a bit different compared to others as activist pressure in Kentucky led to the Louisville Metro Council unanimously passing “Breonna’s Law,” a law that bans no-knock warrants. On the national level, Representative Pressley joined with Michigan Congressman Justin Amash and her colleagues in Congress by introducing “The End Qualified Immunity Act,” a bill designed to end the practice of giving police officers immunity from their actions. While these laws don’t ultimately solve the big issue, they represent good first steps

It was crucial that the panelists highlighted the work of writers such as Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the concept of intersectionality and focused on issues affecting Black, transgender women. Too often we don’t focus enough on issues affecting trans men and women and by taking a more inclusive approach to community building, we can make a safer, more just world for all Black peoples.

A woman wearing protective mask with Black Lives Matter... Photo by Probal Rashid/LightRocket via Getty Images

Irving joined in on the discussion in the special’s second half. He, Common, and Jemele Hill discussed Taylor’s killing, how Black men, can be better supporters to Black women, the importance of community, and a series of other important issues. Something that they noted was that the lack of video of Taylor’s killing played some role in her death not receiving as much attention as other police killings.

While “discussion fatigue” is a thing, it’s still important to have these conversations in public settings. Being able to have difficult conversations around race and gender while making sure you’re willing to listen and be open to new perspectives that challenge your previous ways of thinking can only help as we try to create a more just society. We all can stand to do a bit better so the more efforts we make towards doing so, the better.

An important connecting theme between the two panels was the idea of being a co-conspirator in the fight for racial and gender equality for Black cisgender and transgender women. If the concept of being a co-conspirator as compared to an ally sounds unfamiliar to you, it’s OK. Here’s a helpful explanation of what it means from writer and activist Feminista Jones via The Guardian:

“What I need is for people to come and work with us in the trenches and be there alongside us. It’s not about being on the outside and saying ‘yes, I support you!’ It’s about ‘not only do I support you, but I am here with you, I am rolling up my sleeves. What do I need to do?’”

Common put it plainly when he said “As men we can do more,” and it’s something that Irving himself is trying to do. He mentioned the current conditions his peers in the WNBA have been dealing with in Florida as they prepare for their own COVID games this month. Players in the W have fought against various inequalities in their own workplaces and beyond. For men like Irving, it’s important that they be co-conspirators and stand in and support their colleagues in the WNBA as best as possible. That support comes from working with them in solidarity, following their lead, and making sure that they as NBA players work to amplify their voices as they advocate for justice and equality as well.

One good thing about the structure of this special was that while Irving and Common were the biggest names here, they ceded the majority of the time in the special to people like Congresswoman Pressley, Packnett Cunningham, Garza, and Professor Cooper, all of whom have been working directly in these justice and activist spaces. It’s a subtle, but important thing to lend your voice and cede the floor to the people who are more knowledgeable and more connected to the day to day work of activism and community building. By doing so, you allow for more knowledgeable and informed perspectives to shape the discussion of crucial issues and allow for more people to enter the space as compared to just a select few.

As time continues on and we continue calling for Taylor’s killers to face the consequences of their actions, we have to stay informed and stay diligent in our calls for justice for everyone affected by state violence. It can be draining to live with and think about at times, but doing the work of educating ourselves on the issues affecting our communities, supporting one another through difficult times, and living with purpose and solidarity can help us make it to the other side. Panels like these aren’t the be all, end all, but having people with large platforms using their voices, privileges, and platforms to advocate for justice and uplift the work of people doing the work on the ground are steps in the right direction.

And as for Kyrie, he’s walking the walk.

You can watch the special below: