Race, Policing and the Voice of the NFL Player
What does “Black Lives Matter” mean?
I am a football player, but I am not just sticking to sports. The events of recent weeks in America should force all of us to have difficult conversations in our locker rooms, in our homes and in our workplace about the root causes of violence, hatred and racism in our country. We have an obligation as professional athletes who give back so much to our communities to educate ourselves and be part of these important discussions.
The narrative created by people who do not understand it would lead you to believe that Black Lives Matter is a radical, police-hating mob. Not only is that viewpoint wildly incorrect, but it also oversimplifies and trivializes the real prejudices that black people endure at the hands of some police officers. Saying “Black Lives Matter” is not saying that the lives of black people matter more than the lives of others, it’s saying our lives matter EQUALLY to everyone else and when they are taken unjustly, we expect justice. That is part of the movement’s stated mission, “…working vigorously for freedom and justice for black people and by extension all people.”
People of color are getting killed at the hands of cops at an alarming rate, with no equal justice. According to the Washington Post, 50 unarmed black Americans have been shot to death by police since 2015, accounting for 39 percent of all fatal shootings of unarmed Americans. An unarmed black person is five times more likely to be shot to death by police than an unarmed white person. Body cams, cell phones and surveillance footage have shown us horrifying images, and some still deny what they see before their very eyes.
Let’s be clear. Black people have never been fully treated as equals in this country: Not 397 years ago (1619), when slaves were first brought to this continent to be free labor; not 153 years ago (1863), when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves from bondage; and not a mere 51 years ago (1965) when the racist Jim Crow laws that mandated segregation were finally ended. In fact, part of the history of policing includes special patrol units, put together to hunt for runaway slaves.
As recently as the 1960s, black people in some states were being attacked and sometimes killed because they wanted to vote and have the same basic rights as everyone else. Imagine that for a moment: Blacks have only been allowed to be fully integrated for the same amount of time that Chris Rock, Dr. Dre and David Spade have been alive.
Now flash forward to 2016, during a time when you have some people given national platforms to say that black people need to stop making excuses, and “move on!” and categorically deny that racism even exists. How could there not still be racism and underlying prejudices? As Americans we should seriously examine how slavery and segregation have taken a toll on us, both black and white. In the scheme of human history, it has been blink of time since slavery ended and all citizens were declared “free and equal.”
Despite all the evidence in plain sight, some still justify these murders. They say the officers “panicked” or the “suspect made a sudden movement” or worse, the victim “got what he deserved” because at some point in their lives they made a mistake. Why is it whenever a black man is killed by the cops, networks and mainstream media hurriedly check their backgrounds, skimming through Facebook pages and court records to provide a character portrait, as if the findings mean that their murder is justifiable? Let us once and for all accept basic humanity and declare that this is wrong.
Another justification or explanation we hear is “What about black on black crime?” as if we are blind or not upset by the fact that our communities are being ripped apart by violence. This viewpoint is wrong because we know, we see and we hurt as a result of the violence in certain parts of the country, and that needs to be addressed. We have a huge problem with the murder rate in certain areas of the country that we need to get fixed. It’s terrible that so many young men growing up in underserved areas engage in behavior so detrimental to themselves and their peers. It’s something that needs changing, and sadly is largely a byproduct of much of what I’ve talked about in this article.
Wanting police officers who break the law, exhibit racism or use excessive force to be punished is not being ‘anti-cop.’ Everyone has to be accountable.
That being said, police take an oath to “protect and serve” the community and should not be compared to criminals, gang members or even everyday civilians. When your job is to uphold the law you are entrusted with power over other people and if you abuse that power, you must be held accountable.
Wanting police officers who break the law, exhibit racism or use excessive force on civilians to be punished is NOT being “anti-cop.” Our nation is filled with exemplary men and women who risk their lives every day for us. I respect them, I celebrate them and I am grateful for the ways they sacrifice to preserve justice. Violence against police is not the answer and it is something I DO NOT condone, nor should anyone. I have friends and family members who are cops and are great human beings. But right now, at this pivotal moment in time, we need the great men and women in blue who keep our cities safe to break the silence among them and speak out against those who have a different agenda. Everyone has to be held accountable.
I alone don’t have all the answers, but it’s very clear from the state we are in right now that things must change. All the citizens of this country have a right to be treated equally and to feel safe, and if those rights are infringed upon any of us, all of us are affected. All of our lives should matter, but right now that is not the case for the black ones, and we should all feel compelled to change that.
Duane Brown was a first-round draft pick of the Houston Texans in 2008. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl three times and was All-Pro in 2012.
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As I look at my wife’s growing belly that is the safe haven for our next child, I am at a loss for words at this beautiful life created. No one but God can manage such a job, and there is no substitute for the Creator of life. I look at the news and see stories of death. A life destroyed in my hometown. A job that should be reserved for God’s appointed angel, and yet man has killed his brother again.
Man killing man is a tale as old as time. One might think that we would have figured out how to stop pointless bloodshed by now. It’s 2016, and the tale continues. One would think that we’d learn by now how to live in peace. One would think that we are smart enough creatures to move past racial prejudices and discriminations, but it is apparent that we have not.
The tragic death of Alton Sterling has led me to remember events of my past while growing up in Baton Rouge, my home. It is who I am and part of what shaped me into who I am today. I know what it’s like to be discriminated against. I’ve experienced several encounters with police officers that left me wondering how such a person wears a badge. I’ve also been pulled over and there was no prejudice against me. I could speak to those experiences, but what good would it do? The point is that some individuals who are sworn to protect and serve have shed unjustifiable blood.
There is nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. It appears that some police are afraid of black people, whether it’s from their own prejudices or ill-conceived stereotypes. In turn, folks in the black community are afraid of police for the same reasons, as well as incidents such as those in Louisiana and Minnesota. Time and time again, this fear of one another has proven to escalate routine encounters into deadly ones.
Let me be clear, not all police officers are racist, but it is alarming that these events continue to pop up all over our nation. Our system is broken, and it’s time for change. Positive, peaceful and systematic change and NOT the disgusting vigilante actions we saw in Texas that took the lives of innocent officers working during a peaceful protest.
To see this country, especially my home state of Louisiana, in such turmoil is sickening.
I’ve pondered many times on how to find a solution to this problem, as well as other problems humanity faces: homelessness, starvation, disease. Almost always, I’m left feeling hopeless and that peace is an insurmountable feat, because there always will be those few who send us back to square one.
We continue to repeat history, and the violence has to stop. It’s overwhelming. I am heartbroken and moved to tears over the events of this past week, this past year. To see this country, especially my home state of Louisiana, in such turmoil is sickening.
I’ve racked my brain trying to come up with an answer only to realize that it is too big a problem for one man to solve. We must come together to find a solution and to overcome these injustices. I can’t imagine what the families of the deceased are going through, but I pray they find the same comfort in Jesus that I do. Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
My only hope is in Jesus, the Savior of the world. I have faith in the will of God. I have learned that in times like these God can do amazing things. We just have to believe that He is capable. I pray that He enters our hearts and teaches us how to love one another. Through His faithfulness I pray that He sends us the answer that we’ve been looking for.
Eric Reid, a native of Baton Rouge, was a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2013. He was selected to the Pro Bowl after his rookie season.
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