Across the country, people continue to march, shouldering signs to protest police brutality and the racial injustice that persists in Black America. George Floyd, murdered after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as he lay face-down and handcuffed. Breonna Taylor, murdered while asleep in her home. Ahmaud Arbery, murdered by two white men while jogging. Not hashtags, but people killed in a country that failed them. Anguished chants ring out, desperate pleas to end the cycle of violence that disproportionately affects the Black community.
“I can’t breathe,” the crowds chant. “Black lives matter.”
The protesters wear masks to combat the coronavirus that continues to threaten lives indiscriminately, regardless of race. (It is important to note that communities of color are at a disadvantage fighting the pandemic as well, as a lack of resources and systemic inequalities put many at increased risk of exposure and serious illness.)
Thousands upon thousands around the world take to the streets, call for arrests, and push for reform.
“No justice, no peace.”
Yesterday marked the 115-year anniversary of Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the day all enslaved people in the United States learned of their freedom. It is a day of celebration for the Black community, and this year it arrives with even more national recognition. Many companies have put out statements of acknowledgement, with some now, starting in 2020, designating it a holiday.
Throughout the day, athletes used their platform to add their voices to the conversation. Down in DC, Washington Mystic Natasha Cloud marched alongside Washington Wizards Bradley Beal and John Wall. From the stage, she addressed the crowd before her. “We stand together and we make a pledge to y’all, that we’re more than athletes,” Cloud said. “We will use our platform and our voices in every single facet that we can.”
The New York Liberty, whose players memorialized the victims with #BlackLivesMatter warmups back in 2016, have never shied away from discussing America’s systemic racial issues. Earlier today, COO Keia Clarke joined the Juneteenth Celebration hosted by Bleacher Report and Black Alliance Network. “When those incidents happened in 2016, the players—at that time, it was Swin Cash, it was Tina Charles—they looked at the organization and said, ‘We want to continue to do this. It’s not a one time thing. We don’t want to yell and scream and holler just one time.’” Since then, the team has hosted a Unity Day, amplifying voices that fight injustices and inequities across the nation. I wrote about last year’s event for TBW, which brought awareness to the mistreatment of incarcerated women.
Today’s conversation, Freedom, Justice, Equality, and the Power of Our Vote, was a two-team collaboration. As noted by The Next’s Jackie Powell, this is the first virtual crossover event between the Liberty and their new Barclays co-habitants, the Brooklyn Nets. Liberty guard Layshia Clarendon and Nets forward Garrett Temple joined the five-person panel. With them on the Zoom call were The Breakfast Club’s Angela Yee, who engaged all participants while moderating the conversation; Topeka Sam, founder of The Ladies of Hope Ministries, which helps women and girls reintegrate into society after incarceration; and rapper Rapsody, who has collaborated with the team before, including recording last year’s Liberty Loud anthem.
Temple was quick to note that Juneteenth occurred two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. “When we were free, we still weren’t able to be free. We still had to fight for that, and we’re still seeing that today.”
“Let it sink in,” Clarendon added, “because we don’t talk about slavery in this country. After the law changed, we still had to free people. “
Racism is baked into our history, into our laws. For those rules to be dismantled, we need to overhaul the outdated voices that currently create and control the legislation. “We have to put our judges in place, our police chiefs, our superintendents, all of that,” Rapsody said.
Sam noted that the disenfranchised are often stripped of their rights, or at least led to believe they have been. After she left federal prison, her probation officer told her she couldn’t vote, even though she knew she could.
“With there being over 70 million people in the country who have a criminal conviction, we don’t know whether you can vote or not,” Sam said. “The problem is so many people don’t vote because of these myths that say you can’t. There are more people that actually can vote and get their rights returned back to them from prison than not.”
Clarendon agreed, further emphasizing that the system is rigged against minorities, who disproportionately end up in prisons.
“Although we do want to abolish a lot of these systems, we want to take them down, we want to reimagine them,” Clarendon said. “The system is operating by design. The system is not broken. It’s working exactly how it was built to operate, to keep us complacent. To not have us show up and vote. To tell us we can’t vote. But it’s realizing your vote does matter and we need you to participate in the framework we do have.
“I’m voting for the ancestors, I’m voting for the women who couldn’t vote, I’m voting for all the people and all the rights that they’re trying to take away. Make the best decision with the choices that you have. We’re not settling because we’re voting right now.”
Both Temple and Clarendon—like many Black athletes being called back to play—have wrestled with the idea of taking the court. Are they further advancing the conversation if they suit up, or offering a distraction to those that view sports as a reprieve? Players in the NBA have until June 24 to opt out, players in the W must state their intentions by June 25.
“As a Black man, seeing my Black brothers and Black sisters killed by police, I understand sports being seen as a distraction,” Temple said. “But, by the same token, all the cameras being on us, being on ESPN, I think it’s an amazing opportunity for us to make sure that we keep the narrative going. In my opinion, it’s our obligation to be a voice for the voiceless.”
He threw out some options to keep the movement visible: Black Lives Matter painted onto the sidelines, or players reading PSAs during game stoppages, or team warm-ups bearing messages.
After much thought, I’ve decided to opt out of the 2020 WNBA season. There’s work to be done off the court in so many areas in our community. Social justice reform isn’t going to happen overnight but I do feel that now is the time and Moments equal Momentum. Lets keep it going!— Renee Montgomery (@itsreneem_) June 18, 2020
Earlier this week, Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery announced she would not be playing this season. Clarendon intends to compete, believing this to be an opportunity for the WNBA to unify for a larger platform than they’ve had in the past.
“Kyrie can play or not and people will listen to what he says. Us returning is not a distraction in the same way men are, because women are given 5% of all media coverage.” Once handed the microphone, she intends to control the conversation, much like Cloud did last season with her media blackout. “I won’t answer questions,” Clarendon continued, “unless you’re also asking questions about the movement. I’m making sure you cannot make this just about sports, just about basketball. We refuse to just be the Black bodies that entertain you.”
Over the last several weeks, the idea to defund the police has entered the nation’s consciousness. Several states, including California and Minnesota, have committed to large-scale budget restructuring for law enforcement. Knowing her audience, Clarendon put this into terms that were easy to understand.
“The police need a smaller role. In basketball terms, they can’t dribble and we’re asking them to be the point guard. They are not trained to deal with mental health issues, they are not trained in de-escalation, they are not trained to deal with substance abuse.”
Just the prospect of calling the police reinforces the disconnect between experiences across race. “In our community, we are not calling the police,” Yee said. “White people will call the police for any reason, not realizing the harm they can do. Call the police on a Black person and they can end up dead, they can end up in jail for no reason.”
Most crime, Sam argued, can be avoided, if those resources are instead put into building up minority communities. “Crime is because of need. When someone is stealing something, they’re lacking something. Who is really to blame? The person who stole diapers, or am I blaming the community and local government for not investing money in the community.”
Temple hopes the presence of non-Black people at these protests is a significant change moving forward. Along with several teammates, he’s started The Grey Challenge, with the hopes of educating non-Black Americans on the plight faced by the Black community.
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POST THIS AND TAG PEOPLE YOU WANT TO CHALLENGE TO WATCH THESE MOVIES!!!! THE GREY CHALLENGE When we put Black and White together we get Grey. If we are going to see true change beyond social media posts, we will have to meet in that Grey area. There has been an outpouring of support and willingness from many in the white community asking what they can do. Well here is the first step. We challenge you to educate yourselves on the black experience in America by watching this curated list of films. The more you are truly aware of what has transpired and is continuing to happen in this country, the more empathy and understanding can be had. True change requires empathy. Empathy starts with understanding. Understanding comes with seeing from a different point of view. In order to get to the grey area, you have to be willing to step outside of your own experiences. If you are truly down for the cause of change, healing, and moving forward together, accept this challenge and share it with your friends and family. Visit thegreychallenge.com and Follow @thegreychallenge if you choose to accept. ✊🏿✊🏾✊🏽✊🏼✊🏻 TheGreyChallenge
He hopes that, after watching these 12 films, Americans will gain perspective and empathy. “People don’t understand the root cause for why these things happen. Trying to educate people on redlining, the prison industrial complex, all the things that have happened in our community to create this system that does what it does. We’re only 13 percent of the population. We need white people to join in and be our allies. People are finally, finally starting to acknowledge it and be part of the change.”